State Senator Wants More Accountability in Psychiatric Patient Abuse Investigation

A Connecticut state legislator and hospital insider are calling for an investigation of some psychiatrists at the state’s maximum security mental facility, part of the Whiting Forensic Division on the Connecticut Valley Hospital campus in Middletown.

It was reported earlier this month that letters allegedly were written by the patient at the center of an abuse investigation.

A decade ago, the patient appears to have sent urgent pleas for help to some of the doctors entrusted with his care. The NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters have obtained three letters written by him and people close to the patient confirm the letters are in his handwriting.

Hospital staffers tell the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters the letters were kept in the patient’s medical file.

"Somebody had to have seen them if they were put in the patient's chart," a Whiting employee, who wants to stay anonymous for fear of retribution, said.

The state will not say if the psychiatrists ever read or received the letters but one letter has a stamp indicating it was received.

In a letter to Dr. Michael Tress, the patient wrote that someone had broken his leg. In another letter, he wrote to Dr. Michael Norko and said he had been beaten up in the bathroom and a forensic nurse was "trying to kill me."

The forensic nurse named, who has since retired, was arrested last year on charges he abused this patient and his case is pending.

The state acted after the abusive conduct of this patient was caught on video last year. Some say there needs to be consequences for those doctors who may have ignored a plea for help.

Tress is no longer at Whiting, according to the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, or DMHAS, the agency overseeing Whiting. It is noted that he still works on the Connecticut Valley Hospital campus, which includes Whiting, but in a different division.

Norko was recently brought back to Whiting as its interim director, a title he held about a decade ago, in the wake of the investigation into the abuse of this patient.

"It seems like a rogue organization and that there is no accountability. Particularly for higher management," the anonymous staffer told NBC Connecticut.

State Senator Heather Somers, who co-chairs the state legislature’s public health committee, agrees.

Although Somers’ committee oversees DMHAS, which runs the hospital, she said she is unaware of any investigation into the letters or the doctor's whose names appear on them. To date, 37 staff at Whiting were put on leave, and 13 were terminated in connection with the patient abuse investigation. Employees got in trouble for the alleged abuse, but also, failing to report it.

"If these were in a patient's file, there was abuse that was known, or there was allegations of abuse that were known by the same people that are now in charge," Somers said.

Somers told the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters the only way she believes there will be change is with an overhaul of the administration that both Whiting and DMHAS.

DMHAS declined to give NBC Connecticut an on camera interview with the doctors or management, even if we don't identify the patient. NBC Connecticut also reached out directly to the doctors identified in the letters but did not hear back from them. In the days after NBC Connecticut Troubleshooter's first story on these patient letters, the agency sent a pair of emails to all employees, instructing them not to talk to legislators about DMHAS without the agency's permission and requiring them to review patient privacy rules.

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