Lawsuit Depicts Hospital Failures

Jim McElhatton, Washington Times, Mar. 25

Staffing and management failures at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast have led to the deaths of several patients and overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions for others, according to a group appointed to oversee the city-run facility.

University Legal Services Inc., a federally designated protection agency that advocates for people with disabilities in the District, on Monday filed a federal lawsuit against the District, depicting widespread problems at the psychiatric hospital.

“Patients routinely complain that staff treat them like babies or, worse yet, animals,” the complaint filed in U.S. District Court reads.

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According to the group, failing conditions at the approximately 460-patient psychiatric hospital have contributed to several deaths there since 2003.

In April 2004, one patient stomped on another patient’s head and face while a nurse was unable to stop the attack, according to the group’s complaint. The victim suffered internal bleeding and fell into a coma, the complaint reads.

That same month, an elderly female patient attacked and killed another female patient in an unsupervised section of the hospital ward, the group said in the complaint.

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Rats and mice are common, furniture is infested with bugs and elevators frequently break down during use, the complaint reads.

The hospital has failing heat and cooling systems, and a recent sewer-pipe problem was described in the complaint as “overwhelming both patients and staff with the smell of human waste.”

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