Crime victims concerned over possible changes at Whiting Forensic Hospital
Patients at Connecticut's troubled maximum security mental hospital lobbied lawmakers for major changes Monday, but crime victims and prosecutors worry they might compromise public safety.
Whiting Forensic Hospital is where violent offenders go if they're found not guilty by reason of insanity. Others patients are there to be evaluated to see if they're competent to stand trial.
At a public hearing, patients and advocates urged the legislature's Public Health Committee to replace Whiting.
"I was physically assaulted, unprovoked, by some of these same patients that were later discharged from Whiting," said patient Gail Litsky.
A task force found "numerous safety issues," including "vermin, broken equipment [and] lice" leading to a "pervasive atmosphere of hopelessness."
In recent years, a nursing supervisor and nine other staffers were convicted of abusing a patient.
The task force wants to build a whole new hospital, hire more staff and an appoint an inspector general to investigate complaints. Task force members say it's a matter of when abuse happens again – not if.
Hospital leaders say they're already making changes.
"Including enhanced review of restraints and seclusion and other significant events," said Connecticut Mental Health & Addiction Services Commissioner Nancy Navarretta.
Critics say it's not enough. They say leaving Whiting is nearly impossible because of the state's Psychiatric Security Review Board, which reviews cases solely based on public safety.
The Whiting Task Force recommended dissolving the PSRB altogether. A current bill would study the idea. It also includes a controversial provision letting hospital administrators grant patients temporary leave, instead of the PSRB.
But is ending the board safe?
Former Hartford police officer Jill Kidik worries her attacker could strike again after "she slit my trachea almost in half."
"The idea that my offender could be free for a few hours at the say of one voice is unacceptable," Kidik told the committee.
Prosecutors are concerned too.
"Without considering the interests of the public or the interests of the victim," Middlesex State's Attorney Michael Gailor told the legislature's Public Health Committee. "Presumably, the victim wouldn't even get notice that the individual is out on temporary leave."
The process of replacing Whiting is already underway. The state Bond Commission expects to borrow $3 million for a planning and design study Thursday.