WASHINGTON - The Justice Department today reached a settlement agreement with the District of Columbia to resolve allegations of civil rights violations at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, located in Washington, D.C. Under the five-year agreement, the city is required to implement reforms to ensure that individual patients at the mental health facility are adequately protected from harm and provided adequate mental health services.
The Department opened an investigation into conditions at St. Elizabeth’s on March 16, 2005, that revealed numerous civil rights violations. These violations are detailed in the Department’s findings letter, which includes allegations of failure to protect patients from harm due to an excessive number of assaults, elopements and chemical restraints; failure to provide adequate psychological and psychiatric services; and failure to ensure adequate discharge planning and placement in the most appropriate, integrated setting. Under the terms of the agreement, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the District will address and correct all of the violations identified by the Department.
“Patients like those at St. Elizabeth’s are among the most vulnerable in our society, and the Justice Department is firmly committed to the vigorous protection of their rights,” said Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “We appreciate the cooperation and commitment that we received from the District of Columbia in reaching a resolution and we look forward to working with the Fenty Administration to implement these reforms.”
The Civil Rights Division conducted its investigation pursuant to the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act of 1980 (CRIPA). The statute allows the federal government to identify and root out systemic abuses such as those identified in this case.
The Civil Rights Division has successfully resolved similar investigations of other psychiatric facilities in California, North Carolina and Vermont, and has pending investigations concerning psychiatric facilities in Connecticut, Georgia and Oregon.
The Department of Justice’s CRIPA enforcement effort reaches beyond facilities for persons with mental health concerns. Since 2001, the Department of Justice has opened 71 investigations into the terms and conditions of confinement at nursing homes, mental health facilities, residences for persons with developmental disabilities, juvenile justice facilities, jails, and prisons.
More information about the Special Litigation Section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division can be found at http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/split/index.html.