How to Complain: PAIMI and the MHLS


So, for starters, agencies that have PAIMI (Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness) should change their policy so that anyone can refer a mentally ill person for protection.  The lawyer can take the information from anyone, then go find the mentally ill person, assess status, and ask if the person wants representation.  Alternatively, if the person seems not to understand the situation, e.g., not even to know his own name, then the PAIMI lawyer could go to court to have a legal guardian appointed. 

Keep in mind that the CPEP director says that they can relocate an incompetent person a hundred miles away without telling anyone who might care about the person.  (See https://behindthelockeddoors.wordpress.com/2011/12/04/being-disappeared-into-cpep-part-iii/ )  What should be happening is this:  when a person is admitted to an inpatient facility and is judged to be clinically incompetent then the facility should immediately notify PAIMI. 

The PAIMI attorney should have temporary legal custody until a competency hearing can be held.  If the patient is found to be legally incompetent then a legal guardian should be appointed.  It is presumed that a competent person can protect himself from the excesses of the psychiatric system.  Therefore, an incompetent person also has the right to be protected from the psychiatric system.  To fail to provide protection is tantamount to letting a child be homeless and live alone on the streets.

My first experience with PAIMI occurred after I had been inpatient in a state psychiatric hospital, Hutchings Psychiatric Center.  I was on the caseload of Dr. Jane Kou, however she was not treating me.  Dr. Kou’s job, as she understood it, was merely to triage and discharge.  After a couple weeks of inpatient, without treatment, Dr. Kou discharged me without medication, a therapist, or a psychiatrist.  She simply kicked me out on the street, over my protestations.  The problem was that I was grossly suicidal and nearly died that night.  I had gone to the hospital for help but not received any.  All I received was the classic “three hots and a cot,” which I already had at home.

Later, when I had regained some semblance of ego-integrity, I found out about PAIMI and talked to the lawyer.  She told me to write a letter to the head of the hospital and ask to see my hospital records.  I did so, and the hospital replied that I could schedule an appointment with Dr. Kou in which to review my records.

No way was I going to let Dr. Kou control me and my hospital chart, and the law said I didn’t have to, so I filed a written protest.  The hospital’s reply was that I now could request an appointment with the psychiatrist and the social worker at the same time.  I reported this to the PAIMI attorney, who wrote to the hospital.  Her letter was only one page and consisted of a couple lines of introduction and then one long paragraph that directly quoted the law.

The day the hospital received the letter, they notified me that I could come to the records unit and see my chart—unsupervised—any time between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. on any weekday.  That was exactly what the law intended and the hospital most assuredly knew it.  But the hospital didn’t care about the law; they cared about retaining power over an apparently disabled person.  That is what psychiatric hospitals do.  A psychiatric hospital is not a benevolent institution that cares about its patients.  It is a self-serving institution that has its own agenda.

The hospital chose to ignore the legal rights of a patient.  All it took to straighten them out was a one-page letter from a lawyer in which she quoted the law.  Basically, she put her law degree behind me, alerting the hospital to the fact that they would have to deal with her, not me, if they continued to screw with me.  Letterhead from a law firm makes a big impact; letterhead from a patient does not.

What do you do if you want to get out of a psychiatric hospital?  In New York State, you contact the Mental Hygiene Legal Service.  The most important thing to know is that the Mental Hygiene Legal Service (MHLS) is not part of the NYS Office of Mental Health; it is part of the NYS Supreme Court, Appellate Division.  In other words, the MHLS is set apart from, and does not answer to, the psychiatric system.  It answers to the law, not the doctor/administrator.  (See http://www.courts.state.ny.us/ad3/mhls/index.html )

“The Mental Hygiene Legal Service (MHLS) provides legal services, advice and assistance to persons receiving care or alleged to be in need of care at inpatient and community-based facilities for the mentally disabled. Created in 1964 and organized under Mental Hygiene Law article 47, MHLS represents such persons in judicial and administrative proceedings concerning admission, retention, transfer, treatment and guardianship. In addition to handling judicial proceedings, MHLS provides advice and representation regarding standards of care and other matters affecting the civil liberties of persons receiving care at facilities for the mentally disabled.

“MHLS can also be assigned as counsel or court evaluator in Mental Hygiene Law article 81 guardianship proceedings, and as counsel for persons who the State wishes to commit pursuant to the Sex Offender Management and Treatment Act (Mental Hygiene Law article 10).”

In the 1960’s the MHLS systematically screened psychiatric hospital patients and they found Charles Bartlett.  He had been warehoused—without treatment—in a state psychiatric center for thirty-two years.  MHLS got Mr. Bartlett sprung from the zoo where he had been imprisoned.  Afterwards, he successfully sued the hospital for several million dollars.  For the story of Charles Bartlett, see “A Life of Value, Parts I & II.”  https://behindthelockeddoors.wordpress.com/2011/03/07/a-life-of-value-part-i/

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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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3 Responses to How to Complain: PAIMI and the MHLS

  1. Thanks Anne – You post some wonderful things (bad things to hear) but we want people to know what ‘s going on.

    Thank you
    Maria

  2. I hope that the complaints will be heard as I am ready to report a Psychiatric Hospital in Pennsylvania and what I witnessed was ABUSE, not only with my 90 year old mother but a couple of kids.

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