New Troubles at Bridgewater State

A troubling development repeated itself at the famed Bridgewater State Hospital in Massachusetts, the place where the “Boston Strangler,” Albert DeSalvo, and the model for the cult classic movie of the 1860’s, “TheTiticut Follies,” occurred in late June. Another patient death by suicide within the facility.

In an  article entitled “Suicide spurs call for receivership at state hospital,” written by Katie Lannan of the STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE of the Newbury Port Daily News detailed the now repetitive tragedy. The Center had tardily reported on April 8, 2016 the death of Mr. Leo Marinio from Lawrence MA who killed himself by “ingesting large quantities of toilet paper while in isolation.” The local state advocacy organization, The Disability Law Center of Boston was calling for the entire facility to be placed into “receivership” and for the state to move on plans to transfer the control and operation of the hospital from the Department of Corrections to the Department of Mental Health.

Two aspects of this case are troublesome to this reader. First, the report of the death appears from this and media reports to have been delayed by weeks, and deceased had somehow in isolation been able to stuff enough foreign material into his throat to block his own airway and have time to die possibly unobserved.

Where I practice in the state of North Carolina, a death within any state institution whether it be a mental health, nursing home, hospital, or correctional facility, MUST be reported to the state authorities within a time limit of 24 hours. How this may have been delayed this long is astounding to this writer. Any unnatural or unexplained death even in any kind of hospital must so be reported within such a time frame to permit timely review and objective investigation of the cause of death and its circumstances, in a constant effort at self-correction of procedures and public airing of findings. We see the same kind of hush-hush delays nowadays in correctional, meaning police related deaths going on and receiving national news coverage when people die in police custody, being taken into police custody and it seems nowadays to take a judicial order to release timely records involved in such untimely deaths, such as on the spot videos that are so common now.

Second, this facility which has dealt with the forensically seriously mentally ill for generations, was run by the Department of Corrections, not an agency tasked with dealing with complexities of the mentally ill, though it must be stated that it is still possible and does happen also in mental health run forensic facilities that suicides occur. But it was a real surprise to this writer than Bridgewater State was not in my mind a “hospital,” as I had always thought, but a correctional facility with all that that circumstance can bring with it, such as overuse of isolation for corrective measures, and a lack of training in dealing with the seriously mentally ill.

The article sadly, in my mind reports that it had recommended such a move nearly two years ago the then Governor Duvall in 2014 because of similar issues detailed in this blog in which three deaths were involved.

This writer will watch this situation and monitor how the state machinery and political system handles this in the future and “report back” to the reader.




Author: Frank

I am a older child, adult, geriatric teaching psychiatrist with over 30 years' practice experience in North Carolina, first at Duke as clnical teaching faculty, then in Western NC as a primary child psychiatry specialist. I have taught and supervised child psychiatrists and psychiatrists in training and many other mental health professionals and taught at two medical schools. I have served in many public and private practice settings. My primary interest is in observing and documenting the ongoing mental health reform efforts in the State of North Carolina and documenting its sucessess and failures at all levels. My favorite pastime among many others is spoofing my friends and kids with my deadpan sense of humor.

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