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An agreement to prevent abuse of mental health patients at Bridgewater State Hospital appears to be nearly finalized.
At a Superior Court hearing Tuesday, Judge Paul Wilson said he could sign off on the settlement of a class action lawsuit over the use of restraints and solitary confinement at the facility as early as next week.
The suit, brought on behalf of Peter Minich and other patients at the state Department of Corrections-run facility, alleges that Minich, who has paranoid schizophrenia, was held in seclusion at Bridgewater for a total of more than 6,300 hours, and in restraints for more than 400 hours.
When Minich's mother Joanne visited him, she says, a kind of prison mentality ruled even though her son — like most patients there — had never committed a crime. For the visits, he was placed in what was called the "birdcage."
"They would lock him in the birdcage and he would also be shackled. What is the reason for all that?" Joanne Minich said. "I mean, you couldn't touch him sometimes. They wouldn't want you to touch him. I can't even believe in this day and age and in this state of Massachusetts that this is going on."
Now state corrections and mental health officials are agreeing to changes. Among them: stricter policies about when restraint and seclusion can be used, protections for patients' dignity and physical health, rigorous staff training, and third-party oversight.
Attorney Roderick MaCleish helped negotiate the agreement on behalf of the plaintiffs.
"People being tied up sometimes for 136 hours at a time, that will end," MaCleish said. "It will take resources, but Bridgewater remains a very troubled institution."
To make good, the state would need some $10 million for more than 130 new clinical workers. This year, lawmakers provided a down payment of $1.7 million in new funds. And the state has documented significant improvements since the suit was filed just seven months ago.
This summer three correctional officers at Bridgewater were fired for using improper mechanical restraint which lead to the death of a 23-year-old patient in 2009.
This article was originally published on December 23, 2014.
This segment aired on December 23, 2014.
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