A man who says his brother was abused repeatedly by staff at Connecticut's only maximum-security psychiatric hospital urged lawmakers on Monday to look more deeply into the case and make changes at the state-run facility.
Investigations into the alleged abuse of Shehadi’s brother have 37 Whiting Forensic staffers on administrative leave and 10 of them arrested. The arrests are linked to incidents, captured on surveillance over a one month period, that includes poking, kicking and even putting a dirty diaper on the 59-year-old patient's head.
"I might describe Whiting as the awkward marriage of a prison and a hospital. With a culture of hardness, insularity and control," Al Shehadi told members of the General Assembly's Public Health Committee on Monday.
Whiting is part of Connecticut Valley Hospital, a psychiatric care complex run by the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. It includes 106 beds for patients in maximum security and 141 beds for those in enhanced security. The patients include people found not guilty of murder and other crimes by reason of insanity and other people committed voluntarily or involuntarily by civil courts.
The commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS), which oversees hiring Forensic Division of the Connecticut Valley Hospital, sat on the hot seat more than two hours, responding to pointed questions from the state public health committee, about why this alleged abuse wasn't discovered earlier.
"I consider this a failure of management at Whiting. I believe that the management at Whiting should have known and that's why I removed those individuals," DMHAS Commissioner Miriam Delphin-Rittmon said.
Senator Heather Somers, the committee co-chair who called for the hearing, said removing two managers, separating seven others from state service and bringing in a consultant is not enough.
"This begs me to question,'Who's in charge?' I have no confidence, I have to tell you, that this can be fixed with what I've seen from you today," Somers said.
Somers believes the state needs to do more to address a systemic problem of bullying and fear of retaliation among employees.
Part of the committee co-chair's anger came from comments the commissioner made about patients playing violent video games at Whiting. The commissioner said in many cases the video games can be beneficial for patients.