A federally funded watchdog group is demanding sweeping reforms at troubled Bridgewater State Hospital, charging that prison officials are not qualified to run the mental health facility and that guards and clinicians routinely violate safety rules and the rights of patients.
The changes outlined by the Disability Law Center go well beyond a recent plan to revamp practices at Bridgewater announced by Governor Deval Patrick. Both Patrick’s plan and the report were triggered by a Globe story in February about the death of a mental health patient as guards subdued him and strapped his wrists and ankles to a bed.
The center’s report portrays Bridgewater as a place where staff members are more concerned with punishment than patient care and sometimes harm patients already scarred by mental illness, traumatic brain injuries, sexual abuse, or intellectual disabilities.
Lawyers for the center, who spent six weeks at the Bridgewater complex reviewing records and interviewing patients and staff, said prison guards and clinicians do little to treat patients and often take a “one size fits all approach” to patients’ problems — secluding or restraining them for everything from feelings of anxiety to refusing medications to getting into fights.
“At its very core, however,” the 23-page report concludes, “the excessive restraint and seclusion is symptomatic of a more fundamental problem: these patients with serious mental illness are being held and ‘treated’ within a correctional facility rather than within a mental health facility.”
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