Three months after a surprise inspection at troubled Bridgewater State Hospital in response to “patient safety concerns,” the national agency that accredits mental health facilities has decided not to downgrade Bridgewater’s professional status.
The Joint Commission sent investigators to Bridgewater May 30 following a Boston Globe report on conditions at the facility, which, despite its name, is a medium-security prison. The commission gave state officials 45 days to respond to its concerns or risk losing its accreditation as a mental health care provider.
But the commission, a nonprofit organization that accredits health care entities across the United States, notified Department of Correction officials Monday that Bridgewater’s accreditation would remain unchanged.
“The accreditation process is an added check that helps us provide safe, high quality treatment to the patients and inmates under our custody,” Carol Higgins O’Brien, the newly named commissioner of the state Department of Correction, said in a statement.
Neither the commission nor the department would disclose the specific reasons for the surprise inspection, but the action followed a series of Globe articles showing that Bridgewater clinicians and prison guards had routinely used seclusion and restraints — the practice of strapping a patient’s arms and legs to a bed — to control patients diagnosed as mentally ill, often in violation of state law, state regulations, and Bridgewater’s own policies.
The Globe’s reporting centered on the circumstances surrounding the 2009 death of Joshua K. Messier, a Bridge- water mental health patient who died as guards were placing him in four-point restraints.
After Messier’s death, the Globe found that Bridgewater’s use of seclusion and restraints climbed 27 percent through the end of 2013, even as other forensic hospitals in other states sharply reduced their reliance on those measures.
The Joint Commission’s own standards say that seclusion and restraints “pose an inherent risk to the physical safety and psychological well-being of the individual served,” and should be used “only in an emergency where there is an imminent risk of an individual served physically harming herself or himself or others.”
In recent months, department officials retained a nationally recognized specialist, Joan Gillece, to help reduce the use of seclusion and restraints at Bridgewater and earlier this year announced a 98 percent reduction in the use of restraints and a 60 percent reduction in the use of seclusion.
In addition, the Legislature recently approved $1.8 million to hire additional clinical staff at Bridgewater and is exploring opening a separate facility, to be run by the Department of Mental Health, to house pretrial detainees undergoing psychiatric evaluations.
In July, Public Safety Secretary Andrea Cabral forced Correction Commissioner Luis S. Spencer to resign after officials discovered he had delayed an internal affairs investigation into another allegation of abuse of a patient in the same unit where Messier died. The patient survived the abuse.
Cabral recently announced the appointment of Higgins O’Brien as Spencer’s permanent successor. Higgins O’Brien was an undersecretary of public safety under Acting Governor Jane M. Swift.