How to Complain: Family and PAIMI

I’ve learned an awful lot about how to file complaints and what it all comes up to is finding and filing with the government agency that has oversight over whoever is screwing with you.  I only have found one instance in which this doesn’t work and that’s family.  For personal reasons, I need to segue here and say a few words about the abuse and maltreatment that comes from your family.

I loved my three sisters and felt very close to them.  I counted them as my greatest resource.  I don’t know when that stopped.  I took antidepressants every day for twenty-six years.  Sometime during those years, my sisters’ relationships with me went rancid.  I’ve spent a thousand hours trying to figure out how and when it all went bad but I really don’t know.

When I stopped taking psych meds, I woke up to discover that my sisters no longer were an asset; they were the biggest liability I had.  I would be firmly launched on my recovery from depression and then I’d have a phone conversation with one of my sisters—they live 270 miles away—and spend about a week lying awake at night, reviewing our past, trying to find a future, and crying.

I’d take three steps forward and they’d drag me back two steps.  I tried every strategy I could think of to get them to know who I was becoming and give up who I had been but they wouldn’t do it.  They kept dragging me back into a sordid despairing kind of sickness.  At a time when I was becoming an activist who was sitting in boardrooms with executive directors, my sisters were dragging me back to being a total looser and the family scapegoat.

It took me three years to finally accept that my sisters would not change and that the only thing I could do was estrange myself from them.  My fiancé died when I was twenty-seven.  Burying him was easier than separating from my sisters.  Right down to the cellular level, they were a part of me but they would not let me grow.  Failure to support growth in others is one of the most evil sins.  It only took me about ten years to get over Bob’s death to the point where I could remember the joy of loving him instead of the pain of losing him.  I’ve been estranged from my sisters for ten years and the pain is still raw but I am good and healthy and strong.  It is a choice that many of us have had to make.  Okay, now back to how your therapist and psychiatrist are not your family:  you can file complaints against them to force them to stop mistreating you.

Virtually everything in our society is now regulated by some government agency—particularly if you are poor, and being mentally disabled leads to poverty really quickly.  You can’t work, you go on Social Security Disability and—bingo bango—you’re legally poor.  You don’t have to be poor to complain about your care providers but you do have to be poor to qualify for assistance from some agencies. 

Half the time, the government is paying for your care and therefore has a foot in the door to decide your quality of care.  The other half the time, Big Daddy government thinks that you, as a citizen, are too stupid to refrain from buying snake oil so they are protecting you from yourself.  (They did this by creating the FDA [Federal Drug Administration] which has legalized and institutionalized snake oil, but that’s a matter for a different blog.)

Simply, the government is involved in everything, so you file your complaints with the government.  Sometimes it actually works.  Perfectly intelligent, experienced, and moral workers in the psychiatric system have resources at their disposal that they’ve never heard of.  Nobody’s telling them.  Nobody’s passing the word on what to do if you’ve been screwed, so here’s me, Annie, giving you the book.  This is for all people, not just workers.  Let’s start with PAIMI:  Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness, which is a federally-funded program out of the Dept. of Health and Human Services, Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services. 

Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness


Number: 93.138

Agency: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Office: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Beneficiary Eligibility (082):

Individuals with significant mental illness or severe emotional impairment (children) who are at risk for abuse, neglect, or civil rights violations while residing in care or treatment facilities have service priority. Persons with significant mental illness and severe emotional impairment living in the community, including their own home, may be served as determined by their state protection and advocacy systems


For more information, go to the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance at   This will tell you how to apply for an agency grant, as well as inform you that you don’t need to file an environmental impact information statement.  Apparently helping crazy people does not impact on the environment.

PAIMI is funded by the feds but run by the states and your state probably has it.  Google PAIMI and the name of your state to find more information.  In New York State, PAIMI is run out of Legal Aid.  You call them up and ask for help.  At the Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York, they start by asking you if you are the person applying for services, and then telling you that they won’t talk to you if you aren’t.  This is insane.  The person most in need of—hey, it’s called protection and advocacy—is the guy who is so discombobulated that he literally doesn’t know his own name.  See also

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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9 Responses to How to Complain: Family and PAIMI

  1. i have been assisted by PAIMI for several years now but as they are not generally lawyers, or at least my advocate is not, he has litte power to actually accomplish anything. he does see me when i am incarcerated in a hospital against my will, and comes to the hearings, but does virtually nothing helpful to get me out, largely because no one cares what he has to say, a non doctor and nonlawyer. we have crafted many complaints over the years to the dept of public health and the Joint Commission, but as i wrote elsewhere, these are mostly pointless exercises as the JC doesnt give a damn what happens to any individual patient, no matter how representative it may be of the general quality of care…i am frankly disgusted with PAIMI and only use my advocate because i have literally no other resources available to me in all of connecticut. no legal resources will deal with me at all.

    • annecwoodlen says:

      Clearly, PAIMI is not assisting you. In NYS, PAIMI are lawyers. Does Connecticut have a state office of mental health, or is it incorporated in the Dept. of Health? Document all the stuff that your advocate has failed to accomplish and then file a complaint with his boss, and his boss’s boss. Go to the state level. There’s got to be some agency that is committed to protecting your rights. In NYS it was the Commission on Quality of Care for Persons with Mental Disabilities (or something like that). Now we have a Justice Alliance, or some damn thing, which will only take your complaint if you are inpatient. I was being wrongfully held in isolation (intentional segregation that had nothing to do with any infectious disease) in a general hospital and they wouldn’t even talk to me. I am assuming you are poor. There are virtually no legal resources for us poor people. Imagine what would happen if we were empowered! If the local and state governments will not help you, then go to the federal government. You are a citizen. You have the right.

      • I wrote to CMS, my senators, my state senators, my attorney general and state comptroller, several private agencies, ummm, I cannot tell you how many more, but I wrote at least fifteen letters, snail mail and at least a dozen more emails, including a letter to the New York Times behavioral health correspondent, but got nothing, no replies NADA. The DMHAS of CT doesn’t give a damn because I was not hospitalized in her state facility even though I am poorer than poor and in fact being disabled and on Title 19 in CT means that I am forced to have an income below 60% of the federal poverty guidelines…Not that I earn anywhere near that from SSI anyway!

      • annecwoodlen says:

        You don’t “earn” anything from SSI; it is income, but it is not earned. Other than that nitpicking, I don’t know what to say. You are obviously an intelligent, articulate speaker–hardly foaming at the mouth! SOMEBODY SHOULD HAVE LISTENED; SOMEBODY SHOULD HAVE DONE SOMETHING. I am awed by your efforts. I’ve never been able to put that much energy into seeking justice. I am at a loss as to what to do next.

        Do you believe in God? The way I figure it, I work for God, and he doesn’t want his people treated this way. He’s had my back many times on tense issues. Have you read the sacred writings, or prayed? Certainly you need someone really big and powerful now! If you are on the path that God intends for you then he will ensure your success. Maybe you are called to organize people who’ve had similar experiences to yours so that you can present a united front? Maybe you are called to publish a book, go on Anderson Cooper 360, do some other media work? Maybe the issue isn’t psychiatry but how the government doesn’t work?

        I will continue to think on your situation and see if I can come up with more ideas. Keep the faith. You are right; don’t let the bastards get you down.

      • Thank you Anne. I appreciate your moral support. but don[t worry about me, I need to accept that what was done was done. TO ME. and get over it. I need to work towards seeing that it stops happening to others. As in the Murphy Bill. But at the moment I am so tired and ill from psych drugs I am still forced to take that I cannot do much but try to keep my head above water. I try to believe that merely speaking out in my blog is enough , but of course it isn’t , NO ONE reads my blog, and the few who do, don’t bother with the semi-angry or political posts…

      • annecwoodlen says:

        What psych drugs are you still taking, and who is forcing you? Maybe I can help you find a way off them. Meanwhile, treat yourself gently. Give yourself credit for what you do. Gandhi said, “The first thing you do about injustice is make it visible.” That’s what writing does.

    • annecwoodlen says:

      And if you can’t accomplish anything through the executive branch of the government, then go to the legislative side. Contact your state and federal elected officials. Try a university law school for help.

  2. Maria Miller says:

    Hi Anne

    Don’t know if you read my post about my almost 90 year old mother who was admitted to Jefferson Community Hospital (psych ward) to have her meds adjusted. I had a bad feeling about it but she was in there because of wrong drugs that were prescribed for her: Lexapro & Elavil and she developed Serotonin Syndrome. My mother lives with my sister in Pennsylvania and has for the last two years. I tried to tell her that she was on the wrong meds but she believes doctors. I checked with Dr. Breggin, a Pharmacist whom I know in Michigan. Anyway, what I observed that night and it was around 10:00pm when she was finally admitted is how the staff was treating this kid. The next day, I had a chance to speak to him for a few minutes and found out that his dad died when he was 7 and mother committed suicide just a couple of months ago. You cannot imagine how they talked to him: yelling, strapping him down. The only thing I know is his name and the Psychiatrist. I am still in PA and took my mother out on Thursday AMA because they were going to give her Depakote – can you believe this? I know you do. Depake made by Abbot Labs is right now in litigation for off label advertising for the elderly. As a matter of fact 7 attorney generals including one in PA is seeking criminal charges against them. They violated the Securities and Exchange on top of it and have about 1.8 billion set aside for the litigation. I will write a letter to the person whose name you provided. I wonder if it will do any good. I have not had much luck with the media but plan on attending the Empathic Conference in New York and perhaps find someone who will listen. I tried several sources and no luck. It’s not what you know but who you know. Thanks for posting this information. I am disgusted, angry about how the mentally ill are treated and will report this hospital.

    Thanks Anne

    • annecwoodlen says:

      Thanks, Maria. You should go on-line and look for the people in Pennsylvania who represent PAIMI, etc. And continue to read–I will be reporting other agencies where you can file complaints. We need more activists like you who will pursue complaints. Anne

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