East Flatbush

Revamped Kings County psych unit gets high marks as feds drop supervision

Horror stories of past over, says U.S. Attorney

January 18, 2017 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Kings County Hospital Center's revamped Behavioral Health Center.  Photo courtesy of NYC's Health and Hospitals Corporation

Seven years after Kings County Hospital’s psychiatric unit was placed under federal supervision when its shocking mistreatment of patients came to light, the U.S. Attorney’s Office on Tuesday gave the center’s Behavioral Health Service (BHS) a clean bill of health and closed the case.

A consent judgement was entered against Kings County in January 2010 after a two-year investigation revealed horrific abuse of patients, inadequate treatment and dilapidated and filthy facilities.

The investigation found that not only was the facility failing to properly diagnose, monitor and treat patients, but members of the hospital police force were actually assaulting them, handcuffing them to beds and radiators, or ignoring them as they lay sick or dying.

Conditions were brought to the public’s notice in 2008 when patient Esmin Green was left unattended for almost 24 hours and died on the waiting room floor as clinical staff and hospital police walked around her. 

In a letter dated Jan. 10, Robert Capers, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, requested that Judge Kiyo A. Matsumoto close the case because the BHS “is in substantial compliance with the requirements of a January 2010 Consent Judgment between the United States and the City of New York,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The court granted that motion Tuesday.

The BHS facility and its procedures, as well as its police force, have been completely overhauled, Capers said.

“This office takes great pride in the transformation of the Kings County Hospital Center’s Behavioral Health Service and the dramatic improvements in patient care that have resulted from our collaboration with the city,” he said in a statement. 

Capers said that the BHS has become a “model acute care psychiatric facility,” which now addresses the needs of the 11,000 vulnerable patients it sees every year. Medical treatment has improved, and suicide attempts have dropped significantly. Nurses are more attentive and help patient patients to get better, and medication is used only for the purpose of treating patients and not for controlling their behavior. Discharge planning helps keep patients from returning frequently, he said.

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The BHS is now housed in a new $153 million building, which Capers called “well-lit, sanitary and safe.”

In a statement, Shanaka, a patient, was quoted as calling the BHS “a safe haven.”

The settlement with the federal government came about after a landmark civil rights lawsuit was filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Mental Hygiene Legal Service and Kirkland & Ellis LLP, following their investigation into conditions at Kings County.

In a statement, NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said on Tuesday that as a result of the lawsuit and subsequent settlement, the facilities transformed from “a chamber of filth, decay, indifference and danger” to a model psychiatric facility.

David Flugman, partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, added, “There has been not only a total and complete transformation of the physical space, but also a sea change in the facility’s culture that has made it an exceptional institution committed to patient-centered treatment.

Stanley Brezenoff, NYC Health + Hospitals interim president and CEO, said in a statement that the closure of the case “marks an important milestone for NYC Health + Hospitals/Kings County. The accolades from DOJ [Department of Justice] are a testament to the complete cultural transformation that has occurred within the hospital’s psychiatric unit.”

Hospital CEO Ernest Baptiste said the hospital had “turned the page.”

Elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke, state Sen. Jesse Hamilton and councilmembers Mathieu Eugene and Robert Cornegy Jr., sent statements of support for the revamped division and called it a win for Brooklyn. 

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