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Allegations of Abuse at D.C. Mental Hospital Could Prompt Transfer of V.I. Patients

June 11, 2006 — One of four mental health patients living at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C., will be returned home by month's end, Health Department officials said.
The patient – who is describe as elderly and has been living at the mental institution since the 1970s – had requested to return home, according to a release by Health Commissioner Darlene A. Carty.
Carty, along with Chief Public Defender Harold Willocks and Human Services Commissioner Sedonie Halbert, appeared Friday before Superior Judge Maria Cabret to arrange for the release of the patient.
Carty said that she will look into getting more patients back to the Virgin Islands – albeit on a case-by-case basis – if there are the necessary support services in place.
Other than the Eldra Schulterbrandt Facility on St. Thomas, which houses 32 patients, the territory does not have adequate facilities for mental health patients.
Last year DOH officials – including Carty and Dr. Denese Marshall, director of the Health Department's Mental Health and Substance Abuse Division – and mental health activists toured the Michele Motel on St. Thomas with plans to develop a transitional housing program to provide services to individuals in the territory with chronic mental illness.
"We are still at the planning stage of this project," Marshall said.
Friday's court appearance with Carty and other government officials came on the heels of a scathing investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice into St. Elizabeths.
Both Carty and Marshall expressed dismay Friday at the findings of the investigation of the facility, which chronicled a number of deaths that may have occurred due to inadequate medical care. The report also noted unsanitary conditions, described as being in "severe deterioration and serious dilapidation," and revealed that patients' civil rights were often violated – with patients being tossed into seclusion for little or no reason – and their allegations of abuse or neglect often ignored.
The Department of Health has routinely referred patients to the hospital from as far back as 1969, well before Carty and Marshall were hired in their respective positions.
"We are appalled at the findings and will cooperate with the Justice Department in any follow-up investigation as necessary," Commissioner Carty said Friday.
She said that the department is in touch with officials at St. Elizabeths but that at no time did the facility or DOJ officials notify her or Marshall of an investigation into the D.C. facility.
Carty said they were only made aware of the report's findings upon receiving inquiries from local media after the report was posted on a Washington, D.C., newspaper Web site.
Carty said she recognizes that the hospital will be given an opportunity to make major improvements by the Justice Department but that if it becomes necessary, will look into transferring V.I. patients at St. Elizabeths to other stateside facilities in Florida and Texas, where the V.I. Health Department also has patients.
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