I was inpatient at Benjamin Rush Center, the kinder, gentler private psychiatric hospital where nothing bad every happened to me, however something bad did happen to my friend. We were hospital friends; I hadn’t known her prior to hospitalization. She was suffering all kinds of distress and anxiety and one day she confided to me that she was being abused by one of the nurses.
She was a pretty lady and he was a big fat oaf. He had backed her into a corner and forcibly groped her while she tried to resist. Furthermore, he was messing with her meds. My memory is no longer clear on the issue, but he made her take a drug that was dangerous to her, and threatened her with physical harm if she told. Maybe he had made a mistake in the drug and wouldn’t listen to her when she tried to tell him it was wrong. Anyway, she was terrified. I told her that she had to go to administration and tell them; she refused, saying they wouldn’t believe her.
Bernie had been a night nurse on my previous four-month hospitalization. He had dropped out of the priesthood (he told me had only gone into the priesthood because he looked good in black; fact was, he looked incredibly handsome in black, but he was both (a) a very moral man and (b) a jokester). Anyway, Bernie would make night rounds and when he found me wakeful with insomnia then he would come back and sit with me for a while. I had gotten to know him pretty well and he had my respect, trust and affection.
Between my hospitalizations, Bernie had been promoted to some nursing administration post, so after my friend told me what was happening to her I went to Bernie. This was easy to do because Benjamin Rush (BRC), unlike every public hospital I’d ever been in, wasn’t filled with locks. It did have some locked doors, but not many and I could easily move through the building—it was a fairly large two-story building—without being challenged or having to explain myself to anyone.
I told Bernie what my friend had told me, and told him that she was sure no one would believe her, and that if anyone knew she had told then it would get back to the nurse and he would hurt her. I knew Bernie would believe her because she was telling the truth. In most places, the attitude is patient versus staff; no patient is believed simply because she is a patient. At BRC, that attitude did not exist. People were people, not labels. So Bernie listened quietly, then said he would take care of it. He was cutting a line between being grimly angry about what he was hearing, and being gently reassuring to me. He would handle it. I didn’t know how, but I trusted him.
Shortly after I went back to the adult unit, I saw Bernie come and get my friend and leave with her. They were gone for a fairly long while. When she came back, I just said, “Okay?” She replied with a nod that spoke volumes.
The next day, when shifts were changing, Bernie came for her again. When she came back this time, she told me what had happened. Bernie had checked the med charts and found evidence that the nurse had, indeed, made an error and tried to cover it, and Bernie had believed her about the sexual assault. Then he had called the police. When Bernie took my friend away the second time it was to stand with him in the lobby. The police were there and when the nurse arrived for work, my friend got to watch as he was arrested.
Shit happens and people do bad things. On inpatient psychiatry, when staff members do bad things, it is covered up. Only administration knows about it. The staff is protected; the patients aren’t. When Mary Corbliss was mistreating me, the charge nurse wouldn’t even let me talk to her. The nursing administrator was behind two locked doors and therefore completely inaccessible. After I was discharged and filed a complaint, the only response was a brief pro forma letter saying that if anything had been done wrong then they would deal with it. No healing for me.
At BRC, when a staff member went wrong, (a) the nursing administrator was accessible; (b) the patient was believed, and (c) the patient was protected. She was invited to witness the arrest of her assailant. No crap about privacy or confidentiality or protecting the rights of the staff; no “counseling” for the nurse. Instead, a woman who had been criminally victimized got to see her assailant locked up. It must have been an incredibly satisfying experience for her.
At other hospitals, I always forcibly was told that staff were right and I was wrong, not based on any just reality but based on the fact that I was a “psychiatric patient.” Police do not ever believe psychiatric patients. No matter what is done on inpatient psychiatry, the police will not come and interview the patient. They call the staff, the staff says there’s nothing wrong, and the police let it drop. In other words, an entire inpatient staff could go totally off the rails and no one would ever know. The patients would not be heard or believed. That’s what goes on behind the locked doors.
Benjamin Rush Center was a private psychiatric hospital. They held to a higher moral standard. Staff members did not cover for each other; they put the patients first. The solution to this problem began with a night nurse who sat with a troubled patient instead of sitting in the office, which is what they do everywhere else. It is possible to do things right.
I experienced or witnessed criminal abuse at CPEP, St. Joe’s, Community General, Hutchings Psychiatric Center, Upstate Medical and NIMH. It continues even as I write this. If you are not a patient, then go behind the locked doors and be a witness.