NYS Office of Mental Health: The Non-Investigation


Ms Pam Wondro, CSW

NYS Office of Mental Health

Central New York Field Office

545 Cedar St.

Syracuse, NY 13210

Dear Ms Wondro:

 A dispassionate reader of your letter observed, “This is bullshit.”

 I did not call you to investigate a public letter to the newspaper about CPEP (the Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program).

 I called you to investigate a private report I wrote about the mistreatment of others and myself that occurred during my psychiatric hospitalization at St. Joseph’s Hospital in late June and early July of 2002.  In phone conversation, you and I agreed that you would measure the report I filed against the regulated standards for acceptable treatment by the New York State Office of Mental Health.  I sent you about twenty pages and told you there was more to come.  You forwarded the report to Ted Pasinski, CEO of St. Joseph’s Hospital, without waiting for the balance of the complaint.

 The circumstances I described included, but were not limited to—

  • A ten-year-old boy being tied down, taken into the bed of another patient, and locked up with a convicted killer
  • A 6’6”, 420 lb. man with a history of violence repeatedly threatening women, and the consequent punishment of the women by the staff
  • Staff refusing a proper diet to a diabetic patient
  • A psychiatrist whose ex-patients are being treated for sexual abuse
  • An inpatient who repeatedly injured herself and was not put under protective observation
  • A psychiatric facility in which the window blinds are broken closed, leaving the patients in dark rooms
  • Hospital staff without medical training incorrectly setting up medical equipment
  • Denial of a patient’s right to privacy
  • A blind woman of color being assaulted and called a nigger, and no action being taken to protect her
  • Being denied reasonable medical evaluation by the nursing staff
  • Staff deliberately biasing a satisfaction survey

Carole Hayes-Collier, a member of your staff who is paid to be a patient advocate, told me that if I was upset, I should see a therapist.

I filed parts of the report with the Mental Hygiene Legal Service.  They never replied.

I filed parts of the report with the Commission on Quality of Care.  They investigated one small portion and, where the hospital report was at variance with my report, made no effort to reconcile the differences and find the truth.

I filed parts of the report with St. Joseph’s Hospital.  In return I got a note shorter than yours that said, essentially, ‘If anything was done wrong, we may or may not fix it.’

I filed parts of the report with you and—after a year, and multiple requests—got back a three-paragraph letter that does not specifically address any of my complaints.  There are no names of people interviewed, no dates of site visits, no independent observations of conditions, and no references to specific issues investigated.  There is nothing in your letter that can be verified.  Your letter easily could have been written without any investigation having taken place.

There has been no statement from any source about any remedial action.  To the best of my knowledge, circumstances at St. Joseph’s Hospital Psychiatric Services continue today exactly as they were a year ago.

I have bipolar depression, type II; it has the highest fatality rate of any psychiatric illness.  Three years ago, I made a suicide attempt that was so severe that I spent a month in the ICU on life support.  I would rather die than go back into psychiatric care as it currently exists, and what you have told me is that it will continue to exist unchanged.  I will probably die due to the lack of standard treatment.

I have sent the full report to Dateline NBC.  Let the public decide if you have done your job.

Sincerely,

Anne C. Woodlen

P.S. You spelled my name wrong.

Cc:       Stone Philips, Dateline NBC

            Sharon Carpinello, Acting Commissioner, NYS Office of Mental Health

            Jeannie Straussman, Director, Central New York Field Office

            David Brownell, Commissioner, Onondaga County Dept. of Mental Health

Mike Hungerford, Director, Mental Hygiene Legal Services

Theodore Pasinski, President, St. Joseph’s Hospital

Carole Hayes-Collier, NYS OMH Patient Advocate

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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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