An organization backed by the Church of Scientology, the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, last week announced the latest round of civil lawsuits generated by Napa State Hospital patients over alleged civil rights abuses.
However, a hospital spokeswoman says that the hospital has received good ratings with the Joint Commission on Accredation of Healthcare Organizations.
The Citizen Commission's spokesman, Jeff Griffin, said Dec. 15 in San Francisco that four suits had already been filed in federal court by patients against the hospital and that two more would be filed that day. A search at the San Francisco federal courthouse resulted in three current lawsuits against the hospital staff members and doctors; one filed by Danny Atterbury, one by Andrew Trujillo and one by Barolo Mullen.
In a phone interview last week, Griffin said that to his knowledge, two more cases were planned to be filed, although he wasn't aware of their current status.
Among other publications, the Citizens Commission publishes a booklet entitled "Psychiatry: A Human Rights Abuse and Global Failure." Chapter One is entitled, "Psychiatry: A History of Failure."
A number of other cases against the hospital had been dismissed.
In a case filed by Atterbury in June 2003, he alleged that his mail was being tampered with, that he was forced to ingest toxic drugs and that he found it difficult to obtain ink, paper, stamps, legal and religious materials and reading materials.
That suit was dismissed in September for failure to pay filing fees. In her order of dismissal, Judge Marilyn Hall Patel noted that Atterbury had been convicted of murder previous to his stay in the hospital.
Michael Rushford, president of the Sacramento-based foundation Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a nonprofit group dedicated to balancing the rights of criminals and victims, said that mental patients, especially those who've been admitted to a psychiatric hospital by the criminal court system, don't necessarily have the same legal rights as the average citizen. "There probably are some (legal) barriers to a person who has been adjudged mentally incompetent. The system doesn't really accommodate crazy people filing lawsuits."
However, "A lawyer on behalf of a patient in a mental institute can definitely file a claim." Atterbury filed his suits himself. He has also assisted the other patients, according to Griffin.
"None are filed by an outside attorney," Griffin said of the cases filed and to be filed.
Lupe Rincon, spokeswoman for Napa State Hospital, said that she has never before dealt with the Citizens Commission on Human Rights.
She said that patients have a number of ways to complain about conditions in the hospital. "The hospital has zero tolerance for patient abuse," said Rincon. "They can choose to file complaints through the hospital internal complaint process or of abuse directly through hospital staff."
Claims are "investigated immediately by the hospital's special investigator; an investigator on staff. The hospital also contracts with an independent patient's rights advocate, Susan Kessler ... She's an advocate and is responsible for investigating and attempting to resolve whatever the issue is," said Rincon.
Patients can then appeal the decision through the executive director of the hospital or through the Office of Patients Right at the Office of Protection and Advocacy, an outside federal agency, or with the state department of Mental Health, Rincon said.
"Every three years, Napa State Hospital goes through five days of accreditation survey by the Joint Commission on Accredation of Healthcare Organizations in order to maintain accreditation," Rincon said. The last survey occurred in late 2002; NSH received an initial score of 89 out of a possible 100 points, Rincon said.
The Joint Commission's Web site lists NSH's standing at that point as "accredation with requirements for improvement." The areas marked for improvement were "initial assessment procedures," "medication use," leaders role in improving performance" and "assessing staff competence." They received a score of "1" -- the best available -- in the category of patients rights.
By May 2003, the hospital's standing had been raised to "accredation with full standards compliance."
Rincon did confirm an incident brought up by Griffin in which a patient died after suffering heart problems during a softball game. Griffin said that the patient did not receive immediate emergency care and that no defibrillator was located on hospital grounds.
However, Rincon said that staff initiated CPR and that the hospital fire department, which is located on the grounds, arrived within six minutes and started defibrillation. The patient was pronounced dead at the Queen of the Valley Hospital, Rincon said. An autopsy showed the cause of death as being heart failure.
"The incident was also investigated by the Department of Health Services and they found that we were compliant with all regulations," Rincon said.
In recent years, the psychiatric hospital has had problems with patient and staff safety.
On June 3 and July 21 of this year, patients at the hospital committed suicide. Patient Raymond Uphoff, 56, died on July 21 and Wafa Farag, 45, died on June 3. Both hung themselves, according to the hospital. The hospital's last suicide before the summer was in September 2001, when a 24-year-old man was found hung to death.
Patient Anthony Gore, 39, is awaiting trial on charges he killed his roommate at Napa State Hospital on May 3, 2002.
In December 2001, 35-year-old patient Timothy Cameron assaulted a doctor at the hospital. He was sentenced in September to five years, four months in state prison.
Christmas night 2000, 47-year-old patient Orrin Patrick strangled to death a fellow patient at Napa State, John Reed, 48. He plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter, and will spend the rest of his life in mental institutions.