- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 7, 2008

RICHMOND | An oversight committee has determined that a state mental hospital violated state law by holding a mentally ill patient in solitary confinement for 20 years.

Western State Hospital’s local human rights committee found that the facility violated laws governing the use of seclusion and requiring that appropriate changes be made to an individual’s treatment based on ongoing review.

It found that the hospital did not violate laws concerning abuse and neglect.

The patient was identified only as “C.C.” He is a Hispanic man in his late 50s, an attorney for him said.

The report, issued May 25, does not outline why the man was placed in solitary confinement at the Staunton hospital. One of his attorneys, Nathan J.D. Veldhuis, said the family believes it was simply for administrative convenience.

“At times he was reportedly, according to the hospital, difficult to deal with so our position is it was easier to put him in this room than to do what the law requires,” Mr. Veldhuis said Friday.

The hospital is reviewing the committee’s recommendations and will respond, said Meghan McGuire, spokeswoman for the state Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services.

“Western State Hospital is known for its excellent care of individuals with mental illness, and special care is taken to make sure each patient under their care is safe and that the safety of staff and other patients is also ensured,” she said.

State law outlines when patients can be secluded and restrained and requires that those methods be used only in extreme circumstances and for short periods of time.

Mr. Veldhuis said the man has been placed in solitary confinement for long periods of time since 1988, and that he has lived there permanently since 1993.

The man lives in a unit the size of a dormitory room with cinderblock walls painted white, tile floors, a bathroom with a shower, commode and sink, and a small outdoor area where he remains separated from the other patients. The solid door is locked at all times, and the man’s food is pushed through a slot in the door.

Despite his living arrangements, he has been allowed to take numerous trips with his family to local parks, his favorite restaurants and Wal-Mart not accompanied by hospital staff. When he returns, Mr. Veldhuis said he is immediately returned to his room until the next visit.

“One of the greatest ironies in this case is that fact that he is somehow [safe] enough to be released into the community unsupervised, under the watch of his family, but he is so dangerous that he must be locked in a room at all times once he’s back in the hospital,” Mr. Veldhuis said.

Family also complained that the man’s teeth were removed but he was not fitted with dentures. The committee recommended that the family be allowed to provide dentures for the man.

“We believe teeth are a basic human necessity,” Mr. Veldhuis said. “To put the onus on the family to get him dentures is just wrong.”

The committee also recommended the man be transferred to a facility closer to his family so they could visit him weekly, that Spanish-speaking physicians and staff be made available to him and that a treatment plan be developed that includes increasing increments of time out of the locked containment area while he remains at Western State.

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