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Georgia Mental Hospitals Investigated

Page history last edited by PBworks 17 years, 2 months ago

Justice Dept. to investigate Georgia's mental hospitals



The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


Published on: 04/19/07


The U.S. Justice Department is opening an investigation into Georgia's troubled mental hospitals.


The department's Civil Rights division notified Gov. Sonny Perdue by letter, saying that the federal agency will begin investigating patient care issues in the seven state-run mental hospitals.


The action follows an Atlanta Journal-Constitution series, "A Hidden Shame," which has documented widespread problems in the state hospitals. The newspaper found a pattern of overcrowding and understaffing in the hospitals between 2002 and 2006 — leading to neglect and abuse that contributed to the deaths of at least 115 patients under suspicious circumstances. More than 190 cases of physical and sexual abuse were also documented.


The state Department of Human Resources, which operates the hospitals, has acknowledged problems but has said it was working to improve conditions. A DHR spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.


A spokeswoman for the Justice Department in Washington said the investigation will formally begin seven days after Georgia officials receive the department's letter, which was sent Wednesday.


"We're hoping to work cooperatively with Georgia officials, said the spokeswoman, Cynthia Magnuson. Such probes are complex and lengthy, she added.


"Hopefully we will come to a cooperative resolution that will correct the problems.


Magnuson did not detail the treatment problems that the agency will examine.


The letter comes as Georgia lawmakers weigh passage of a resolution creating a commission to reform the state's mental health system.


If its investigation warrants, the Justice Department could file a lawsuit in federal court seeking to force state officials to overhaul the hospitals and the rest of the mental health system. In other states, federal intervention has resulted in significant public expenditures to improve care.


Under a federal civil rights statute intended to protect people in government institutional care, Justice has investigated conditions in mental hospitals and facilities for the mentally retarded in several states.


In January, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a consumer advocacy group, asked the Justice Department to investigate what it called "unacceptable and intolerable" conditions in Georgia's mental hospitals. The group said its letter to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was prompted by an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation that found a pattern of neglect, abuse and poor medical care in the psychiatric hospitals.


The suspicious deaths included 36 who died from choking on food, vomit or foreign objects, or by aspirating those substances into their lungs. A similar number died for lack of emergency treatment or from questionable medical care. Twelve committed suicide.



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