WBUR by Deborah Becker
A new report found little has been done to correct problems at Bridgewater State Hospital, including the use of medications to chemically restrain patients.
The Disability Law Center (DLC) found that the Massachusetts Department of Correction, which operates the facility, illegally used chemical and physical restraints on people in custody, lacks adequate services for those who speak limited English and failed to provide enough information about efforts to remove mold in the hospital building.
A group of state lawmakers visited the hospital Friday. The secure facility serves more than 200 male prisoners and others with severe mental illness.
“This is really about the Legislature getting more engaged with what’s happening at Bridgewater State Hospital,” said state Sen. Jamie Eldridge, who was among the five lawmakers who visited the institution. “I think we need to look at investing more money into mental health and not into prisons.”
Eldridge said the hospital building itself is outdated and should be overseen by the Department of Mental Health in an effort to improve care. He said the lawmakers didn’t see significant changes since their last visit to the hospital in March, but he said staffing issues and the conditions of the building are problems.
As part of its research, the law center reviewed 15 videos of staffers administering medication to patients. In all the videos, the center found patients were held down by staff in riot gear while a nurse injected medications as part of what’s called an emergency treatment order. That’s when medications are forcibly administered in an emergency or cases in which a patient refuses the drugs.
The report found the hospital used force to give people injections, even after patients were no longer resisting.
“It seems to be the standard practice now that personnel come to the cell of the Bridgewater person dressed in riot gear, including with a riot shield,” said DLC litigation director Tatum Pritchard. “To see these instances on video, which we hadn’t before, was truly, truly disturbing.”
The report found both the Department of Correction and its medical provider, Wellpath, violated laws requiring appropriate medical care and documentation when force is used. And said the violence would not be tolerated in another psychiatric hospital.
The Department of Correction said it is reviewing the report.
After the Disability Law Center issued a similar report in January, Department of Correction Commissioner Carol Mici disputed the allegations, saying the department has taken steps to limit the use of chemical restraints and made other improvements. She said the department is following the law regarding administering involuntary medications to those in custody.
In January, the law center cited asbestos and mold in the building as well as the use of chemical restraints. That report was also sent to lawmakers and the Department of Correction.
The latest study was also based on information collected from weekly visits to the hospital, interviews with discharged patients and a review of documents and medical records. It says that both the prison system and its medical provider, Wellpath, are not providing appropriate mental health care and not properly documenting when force or restraints are used.
Gov. Charlie Baker has touted reforms at Bridgewater since he took office, including hiring Wellpath to run the clinical operations at the facility in 2016. Although the Department of Correction oversees Bridgewater, corrections officers only monitor the outside of the facility.
Lawmakers recently overrode Baker’s veto of funding for the DLC’s oversight of Bridgewater for the third straight year.