Motion filed to end federal oversight of D.C. hospital

Hospital Sign in Front of Hospital
Federal oversight of psychiatric hospital ends

The Department of Justice and the District of Columbia filed a joint motion in federal court August 28, seeking to end federal oversight of conditions at a hospital once considered one of the nation’s most notorious institutions.

“The leadership of the Department of Behavioral Health and of Saint Elizabeths Hospital have made significant and often difficult decisions to change the clinical culture at Saint Elizabeths Hospital and ensure that persons confined to hospital were appropriately discharged and integrated into the community with adequate supports,” said Molly Moran, acting assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, in a news release.

Following a string of high-profile, patient-on-patient assaults in 2005, the DOJ investigated the hospital, finding systematic violations of the constitutional and federal statutory rights of the individuals at the hospital.

In 2007, the DOJ and the District entered into a legal settlement, requiring the hospital to complete 224 performance benchmarks.

In response, the hospital “increased its clinical staff, developed training programs to implement evidence-based best practices and installed an electronic medical records system,” according to the the Washington Business Journal. The hospital also replaced several aging buildings with a new, modern facility in 2010.

In the most recent motion, the parties seek to end DOJ monitoring of the facility, attesting that the Hospital has reached “sustained compliance with each of the provisions of the Modified Settlement Agreement.” Hospital officials would continue to meet on a quarterly basis with members of University Legal Services, the state’s protection and advocacy organization.

ULS would continue to be allowed to conduct unannounced visits and monitoring and outreach sessions on the treatment malls and wards, as well as receive most medical records free of charge.

The motion must still be approved by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

At its peak, the hospital warehoused as many as 3,600 people with mental illnesses. The first class-action lawsuit against the institution was filed in 1974.

The lawsuit prompted the District to significantly expand its network of community-based treatment options, but has remained a subject of constant lawsuits for most of the past four decades.

“This joint motion with DOJ is a recognition that we are providing high-quality, recovery-focused treatment at Saint Elizabeths Hospital,” D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray said in a news release. “It also is one more milestone in my administration’s record of ending federal oversight of local government functions.”

University Legal Services is part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.