Words Written and Unwritten


So, on Thursday 18 April, on Unit 3-6, the inpatient psychiatric unit of St. Joseph’s Hospital, I re-discovered writing.  I had something to say and no computer, so I picked up a pen and set it to paper.  I stopped handwriting my essays in the 1990s and now I’m back at it:

My name is Anne C Woodlen and, while in St. Joseph’s Hospital, my cash, credit cards, identification cards, cell phone, and catheter tote bag have been stolen.

I arrived by ambulance to the Emergency Room on Tuesday 16 April at 4:00 p.m. [and lay on the stretcher for one hour and five minutes, waiting in line to be taken in].  Sometime in the evening a “patient watcher” named James and a uniformed security guard attempted to take all my personal possessions.  [Honest to God, they now have people in the ER who do nothing but sit and watch the patient.  I watched the patient watchers watching me to see how long they would go without looking at me; it was about 90 seconds.]

I demanded that they provide me with written justification for doing so.  Neither they nor the nurse could produce any written justification authorizing them to seize my personal property.

The security guard had filled out an inventory sheet stating that he was taking “1 bag, 2 shirts & a cell phone.”

The bag is a burgundy and tan plaid tote with a shoulder strap.  It has a large pocket that is used to carry the drainage bag for my indwelling catheter.  A slightly smaller zippered pocket contained a brown leather card case, which contained about forty dollars in cash, a [***] bank card, my driver’s license, Medicare and Medicaid cards, and [other identifying cards].

The zippered section also contained my cell phone, keys to my home, and a small cloth blue & tan zippered case that held a couple dollars in change.  (The cell phone was also inside the smaller case.)  [And how weird to write and not be able to hit Backspace and re-do a sentence when it wasn’t well constructed!]

The security guard, while preparing to take all these valuable items in my tote bag, had not listed anything except the cell phone.

I successfully talked these people out of taking my possessions from me.

Later that night another uniformed security guard named Joe and a woman, probably the nursing supervisor, again tried to seize my personal property without providing any written authority.  I again successfully argued them out of it.  Throughout, they and other ER staff repeatedly told me that it was “hospital policy.”  It appears to be hospital policy to seize patient’s personal possessions without authority or accountability.   In non-hospital settings this is called “stealing.”

[What the ER staff finally did give me was a printed statement entitled “CPEP:  Patient Search.”  I was not being admitted to CPEP and the document was not applicable to a patient in the Emergency Room.  The closest the CPEP document came to authorizing seizure was “. . . consistent with both hospital policy and Office of Mental Health [OMH] regulations.”  Fact:  every day hospital policies are enforced which do not meet the standard of law.  Hospitals can enact any damn policy they want to but until and unless a patient files a complaint, the illegal policy will stand.  Hospitals are enormously powerful institutions and they have the patient literally flat on her back.  At a time in your life when you are most physically vulnerable, they take over and do whatever they want to.

Years ago I was ambulanced to the Emergency Room at Upstate Medical Center wherein a nurse started doing to me something that was both enormously painful and unnecessary, however convenient for the staff.  When I objected, the nurse yelled at me that they had to do [whatever] “and you called 9-1-1 and came here!”  To the nurse, because I asked for help, I therefore surrendered all self-control to the hospital staff.  

Fact:  Any patient at any time has the right to refuse any procedure s/he wants to.  That is the law.  Seeking professional medical treatment does not give blanket approval for medical personnel to do to you anything they want to do.  You still retain your right to refuse any or all treatment.  “NYS Patients’ Bill of Rights:  (11)  Refuse treatment and be told what effect this may have on your health.”  Medical staff do things that make their jobs easier; that doesn’t mean you have to accept it.  You are not there for the staff’s convenience.  You are paying and you get to choose.

Note to OMH investigators:  The proper way to do this is for St. Joseph’s Hospital to provide the patient with a written statement.  The statement should be pre-approved by the Office of Mental Health and contain the specific numbered OMH regulations that apply, as well as applicable citations from Mental Hygiene Law. 

On the web OMH has posted the Mental Hygiene Law criteria for admitting a person to a mental health facility (http://www.omh.ny.gov/omhweb/forensic/manual/html/mhl_admissions.htm).  There now, that wasn’t too hard, was it?  Now, take that one step further and post the OMH/Mental Hygiene Law for seizing a citizen’s property.  Minimum-wage high-school-dropout Patient Watchers and Security guards do not have the right to seize personal property based on “hospital policy.”  My rights under the Constitution of the United States are not abrogated the moment I enter St. Joseph’s Hospital.

An attorney from the Mental Hygiene Legal Service said that spending a day on inpatient psychiatry reveals more Civil Rights violations than her non-mental hygiene colleagues would see in a year on the streets.  Ain’t that the truth.  Once they think your mind is gone, you lose all your civil rights.

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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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