Sen. Logan, Lawmakers React to Whiting Patient Abuse Scandal

October 11, 2017

HARTFORD — A “culture of cruelty” has taken root at the state’s maximum security psychiatric hospital, flourishing in a dangerous climate of nearly unrestricted overtime and seeming management indifference, a Republican senator said Tuesday.

Sen. Heather Somers of Groton was responding to the arrests of nine workers on felony cruelty charges and the suspension of 31 workers in a patient-abuse scandal at Whiting Forensic Division on the campus of Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown.

Somers said she plans a public hearing before the end of the month.

A state investigation, which paralleled the criminal probe, found that 48 workers at Whiting Forensic Division had varying roles in the abuse — nearly a quarter of the 200 workers at the facility. The abuse was caught on video, but the state inquiry found that the video monitors at the nurses’ stations and elsewhere in the locked wards were not routinely watched. It took a whistleblower to get management to view hours of incriminating video.

“We are spending millions and millions of taxpayer dollars” yet the psychiatric hospital is failing on the most fundamental level, Somers said. She added that the unprovoked abuse of a patient, including the placement of a dirty diaper on his head, a nurse straddling and gyrating on the patient in bed, workers kicking the patient, dousing him with an unspecified liquid, and wrapping his head in a sheet, suggests a “systemic collapse” that exposes the state to action from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Joined at a news briefing by Republican colleagues on the public-health committee, Somers said a public hearing would help determine if the problems at Whiting and at the upper reaches of the state’s sprawling Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services were even fixable, though she said it was too early to begin to discuss privatization efforts.

The public-health panel’s Republican leaders have yet to get a firm commitment to a hearing date from the committee’s Democratic leadership.

Somers said a hearing will go forward whether or not that commitment comes. She said accountability for the public mental-health system extends from “top to bottom and includes” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. She said she would soon announce a hearing date for late this month.

Malloy has condemned the abuse, but has not called for specific reforms or said if he will take action against Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, the commissioner of mental health and addiction services. Delphin-Rittmon has also condemned the abuse, but the changes she has put in place, including new policies on video surveillance, have been roundly criticized as insufficient.

Rep. Prasad Srinivasan, R-Glastonbury, a physician, said the double shifts that are routinely worked by Whiting’s treatment specialists and forensic nurses, including those who have been arrested or suspended, “absolutely” affect the quality of care. He said judgment and tolerance can slip badly.

“You can snap … The humanness in each of us is impacted,” he said.

The employee charged with the most counts of cruelty, a head forensic nurse, earned $70,000 in overtime in fiscal 2016. Counting the bonus he receives for working nights, he was able to double his $90,000 base salary.