‘Very disturbing’: Report details alleged abuses at St. Elizabeths Hospital

The measure approved Friday stripped out provisions allowing doctors to have immunity from lawsuits. It also tightened the definition for terminally ill. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)(Getty Images/iStockphoto/gorodenkoff)
A new report is recommending that the D.C. Department of Health investigate allegations of patient abuse at St. Elizabeths Hospital.

Advocacy program Disability Rights DC at University Legal Services detailed three cases from earlier this year in which patients at D.C.’s public psychiatric hospital were violently restrained or secluded by staff, in violation of D.C. law and hospital policy.

In one case, a man had fractures in his hip and arm after being restrained, and didn’t receive medical treatment for nearly 16 hours after the incident, despite not being able to walk.

Another incident, which was caught on video, showed a man seemingly calm in a common area before he was surrounded by 13 staff members. Hospital officials said he was threatening members of the staff before he was carried into a restraining room and injected with a chemical restraint against his will, conduct the report calls “very disturbing.”

The third case involved a woman with a history of physical and sexual abuse. The report claimed she was restrained and secluded multiple times, despite the hospital’s policy against using those methods for someone with a history of trauma.

In a statement emailed to WTOP, St. Elizabeths Hospital CEO Mark Chastang said, “Saint Elizabeths Hospital is committed to the highest standards of recovery-focused patient care. We are reviewing recommendations in the report and will continue our work with University Legal Services to make sure every patient gets the best and most appropriate treatment to recover and rejoin family and friends in the community.”

Restraints and seclusion are supposed to be used as last-resort measures, but the report said that staff at St. Elizabeths frequently used them without exhausting other options first.

The hospital’s own internal audit showed a dramatic increase in using the tactics. In 2013, there were only four restraints all year. That number jumped to 782 in 2018. In 2012, patients at St. Elizabeths spent a total of 49 hours in seclusion, in 2018, that number increased to 391 hours.

This isn’t the first time the hospital has been under scrutiny. In 2007, the U.S. Department of Justice gained oversight of St. Elizabeths after an investigation found patient assaults and civil rights violations. That oversight ended in 2014, when it was determined that patient care had improved.

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