One day after a judge approved the largest settlement ever between the state of Connecticut and an individual, a Groton state senator echoed her calls for reforming the hospital where a state psychiatric patient was abused.
Five years ago, NBC Connecticut Investigates broke the story of the arrest of state employees at the Whiting Forensic Hospital in Middletown, in connection with the abuse of then 58-year-old patient Bill Shehadi.
Staffers were caught on camera putting a wet mop, and a dirty diaper on Shehadi’s head, along with multiple other instances of abuse over a one-month period in 2017.
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Multiple employees were terminated. Some were arrested and sent to prison.
NBC Connecticut Investigates also unearthed documents showing Shehadi’s cries for help more than a decade earlier.
The civil settlement with Shehadi’s estate called for $9 million from the state. Plus, the state will waive the $8 million it said Shehadi owes for all the care he has received since 1995.
“It's a sad day that the state of Connecticut has to spend $9 million of taxpayer money to settle a case where state employees were abusing patients in our own care," Sen. Heather Somers of Groton said.
At the same time, Somers outlined the efforts that have taken place in the years since the abuse was exposed. A task force met for over two years, and through the pandemic. It outlined a number of changes it believes are needed; some big, some small. Some of the smaller changes have been put into effect already.
For example, committed patients at Whiting are now allowed, to a degree, to advocate for themselves and contact the board known as the Psychiatric Security Review Board (PSRB). The PSRB can determine how much longer a patient stays at Whiting, a maximum-security psychiatric facility, and it can also decide if a patient is ready for a less restrictive setting than Whiting.
Other changes outlined by Somers include making the PSRB now weigh not only the risk to the community when it comes to ruling on a patient discharge from Whiting, but also the patient’s wellbeing.
In addition, the definition of patient abuse has been broadened to include bullying and harassment, something Shehadi and many of his fellow patients have faced from staffers, according to Somers.
At the same time, there will be bigger changes that another task force will consider over the next two years, Somers said. For one, there has been a push to replace Whiting, an older, outdated psychiatric building, with a newer, modern facility.
The senator explained the state has already begun earmarking funds to help pay for that. The cost and design are still to be determined.
“I think in the next few years, you will see a push for a new facility with new standard operating procedures, a new approach on how we handle those who are NGRI [not guilty by reason of insanity] and also those who are just civically committed because the conditions and the atmosphere have been unacceptable, to say the least," Somers said.
Another big lift will be deciding if the PSRB will continue in its present form, have its mission modified or be scrapped altogether.
Somers pointed out Connecticut is one of two states in the country that have a board like the PSRB that determines patient discharges and other matters. The panel has been the source of complaints in the past. Patients and their advocates have said once you get committed to Whiting, the PSRB rarely lets them out.
Others support the PSRB mission and have said it keeps the public protected from dangerous individuals who have often been committed to Whiting after pleading NGRI to serious crimes.