Restraint and Seclusion (Part I)

Clarence J. Sundram, Chairman

NYS Commission on Quality of Care for the Mentally Disabled

Dear Sir:

Enclosed is my response to the Restraint and Seclusion Study.  In addition to the survey I have included something called “Notes from a Hospitalization” which I wrote in response to your question, “What was life like for you during your hospital stay?”  I’m glad you asked the question; I hope you will respond to my answer.


                                                Restraint and Seclusion Study

                                            Consumer Mail Survey

“I felt safe” from myself.  True.

“Staff were usually kind and caring to patients.”  True.

“Staff did not yell at patients.”  True.  Except for Jim, who yelled at everybody.

“Staff did not hit me or other patients.”  True, Except for Jim, who grabbed one of the other women.

“Staff did not call patients names or speak to them in ways that were insulting.”  True, except for Jim.

“Staff never asked me or other patients for sexual favors.”  True, thank God.

“Food was good to eat.”  What can I say?  It was neither bad nor good; it wasn’t memorable, although at the time I thought it was bad.  Does it really matter?  Is this a trick question?  Do I really care?  Do you really care? 

“I had appropriate personal clothing to wear.”  True.

“My clothes were not lost or given to another patient.”  True.

“I was allowed access to my personal possessions.”  False.  Everything I wanted was locked up.  Have you ever studied how many times a day a patient has to wait to have something unlocked?  Unlock the cabinet for a washcloth, unlock the closet for your toothbrush, unlock the closet for the telephone, unlock the door to the stairs for meds, and unlock your bedroom door so you can change clothes.  Hutchings, which is where I was, functions on the principle that if you want something then it should be locked up.  Multiply the number of locks times the number of patients and you come up with the reality that the unit aide’s principal function is to carry around keys.  Why is everything locked?  Explain it to me.

“My personal possessions were not stolen or taken away from me.”  False.  Everything was taken away from me and locked up.

“I had a toothbrush, toothpaste and toilet paper.”  True.

“I could have visitors of my choice.”  True, but I could not be the visitor of choice.  After I was discharged, I went back to visit an inpatient who was a member of my church.  I was told that I could not come back to visit.  What right does the hospital have to tell me I can’t visit?  Certainly they don’t have the right to deny my friend visitors and, since I was no longer a patient, they had no jurisdiction over me. 

“I was allowed to have some private time.”  False.  My bedroom was kept locked and I could not escape the often-wearisome presence of others.

“I was given privacy when receiving visitors.”  True.

“I was allowed to make phone calls.”  True, if I had the coin for the pay phone.  False, if you mean access to the unit phone.

“I was allowed to receive phone calls.”  True.

“If I did not have any money, staff gave me money to use the telephone.”  I had money, so the question never came up; I don’t know what they would have done.  There is, however, one charming incident to report:  the time I was committed to Hutchings I was terribly frightened and so, in the Admissions Unit, I made quite a fuss, ending with the statement that I was going to call a lawyer.  Three staff members simultaneously reached into their pockets to give me a quarter.

“Staff did not read my mail.”  True.  They also did not answer my mail.  I wrote to the doctors involved in my care, the administrator, the regional office, and the Board of Visitors, to name a few, and not one of them answered me.  (To be continued)


About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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