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Lawsuit Challenges Squalid Conditions at Brooklyn Hospital

Armen Hareyan's picture

Hospital Conditions and Patient Care

The New York Civil Liberties Union, Mental Hygiene Legal Service, Second Judicial Department (MHLS), and Kirkland & Ellis LLP today filed a lawsuit in federal court in Brooklyn on behalf of thousands of New Yorkers who have been and continue to be subjected to inhumane conditions at Brooklyn's Kings County Hospital Center. The lawsuit seeks to bring an end to abusive and negligent treatment of patients at the Kings County Hospital Center's psychiatric facilities. An extensive investigation recently conducted by MHLS, in conjunction with the NYCLU and Kirkland & Ellis, showed that Kings County's psychiatric facilities are overcrowded and often dangerously unsanitary and that patients -- including children and the physically disabled -- are routinely ignored and abused.

"The pattern of neglect and abuse at Kings County Hospital Center is an affront to human dignity," said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. "The New Yorkers most in need of our care and support are being denied their basic rights by the very institutions entrusted to protect these individuals."

Investigators found that patients at Kings County's psychiatric facilities are confined in hospital wards whose floors are often covered with urine, feces and blood. Patients frequently sleep in plastic chairs and on the floor -- sometimes for days on end. Patients are given soiled linens, if any, and frequently go without showers and clean clothes. If a patient complains about these conditions or asks for basic necessities, she runs the risk of being punished with a forcible injection of psychotropic drugs. Patients who use wheelchairs must choose between using the facility's only accessible bathroom, which has no lock on the door; using a commode, which is rarely emptied; or dragging themselves across a filth-covered floor in an attempt to use a non-accessible toilet in privacy.

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"It is unconscionable that here -- in the world's greatest city, in the world's richest country -- people who need help are subjected to such appalling conditions by the very institution that should be caring for them," said Rob Cohen, a partner in the New York offices of Kirkland & Ellis. "This lawsuit will improve the lives and treatment of the thousands of New Yorkers who pass through the psychiatric facilities at Kings County."

The lawsuit, Hirschfeld v. HHC, asserts claims under the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act and several provisions of the New York State Mental Hygiene Law and Public Health Law, as well as the New York State Constitution. The lawsuit demands that Kings County Hospital Center provide mental health treatment in the safe and sanitary manner that is required by the law and to which all people are entitled.

"MHLS's legislative mandate is to oversee the care and treatment of individuals who are admitted to psychiatric facilities," said Dennis Feld, Deputy Director of Special Litigation and Appeals at MHLS. "After years of negotiating with Kings County, it became apparent that the only way to ensure that patients at this hospital would receive treatment that was skillfully, safely and humanely administered, with full respect for the patients' dignity and personal integrity, was through civil rights litigation."

Sidney Hirschfeld, the director of MHLS, is the plaintiff in the case and is acting on behalf of the constituents.