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Old 10-10-2007, 09:55 PM #1
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Unhappy The forgotten 13 mentally ill patients....

Bergen Regional deaf to patients' plight, suit says
Tuesday, October 9, 2007

By OSHRAT CARMIEL
STAFF WRITER

Thirteen mentally ill patients involuntarily committed to Bergen Regional Medical Center languished in the hospital's psychiatric unit for up to a decade, their cases forgotten and never revisited, according to a whistle-blower lawsuit going to trial Wednesday.

Former hospital employee Diane Burger brought the forgotten 13 to the attention of county officials responsible for tracking their files, including a Democratic county appointee described as "politically connected, too high up" to blame, according to the suit filed in Hackensack.
Her lawsuit seeks compensation from the hospital for lost wages and damages. But it also suggests the management of Bergen Regional, the state's largest hospital, is a confusing knot of overlapping authority. On one end is the profit-minded company that runs the medical center; on the other are the political concerns of Bergen County's administration, which holds the hospital license.
FAST FACTS Bergen Regional Medical Center, Paramus
Number of beds: 1,185
Public and private: In 1998, Bergen County, which holds the license to the hospital, signed a 19-year deal with Solomon Health Group -- a for-profit company -- to run the day-to-day operations. The deal has led to occasional power struggles between the company and the county, which is ultimately responsible for the quality of care.
PDF: Diane Burger vs. Bergen Regional Medical Center
"Everybody was pointing their finger to everybody else," said Helene Herbert, Burger's lawyer.
"It was Diane who was going to everybody saying, 'Hello? We've got these [13] people, what are we doing about it?' "
Hospital administrators, the suit contends, were under pressure from county officials "to keep a lid on it," because the story of patients confined indefinitely against their will was a "powder keg."
Burger's work environment became toxic, according to the suit, leading her, a 31-year-employee at the hospital, to scrawl a hasty, one-sentence letter of resignation on yellow legal paper. Burger retracted the note within a few days, she said, but hospital officials did not allow her to return to work.
"This employee resigned her position, she was not fired," said hospital spokesman Ethan Geto. "The claim, therefore that she was forced out because she was blowing the whistle on something that happened in the hospital has absolutely no merit.
"If the work environment was so awful that it caused her to resign," Geto added, "then why would she have asked for her job back within a matter of days?"
Hospital lawyers did not return calls for comment.
The Bergen County Improvement Authority, the agency which holds the hospital license, is not named in the suit. Neither is the county administration.
The suit names the for-profit hospital company; its corporate parent, Solomon Health Management; Joseph Gallagher, the former CEO of the hospital; and Douglas Stewart, the former vice president for behavioral health -- Burger's direct boss. It alleges that they -- under pressure from the county administration -- sought to cover up the cases of the 13 patients.
"I went to him almost every day, every day, every day," Burger, 54, said Monday.
In 2005 Burger discovered a patient in the psychiatric unit who had been confined involuntarily for 10 years, without any review by a judge. That case was eventually reviewed by a judge who fined the hospital $2,500. Burger subsequently found 12 more patients who had been confined without a hearing for years and without any review of their case.
Under state law, involuntary confinement to a psychiatric hospital occurs after a panel of psychiatrists determines the patient is a threat to himself or others, mental health advocates say.
That confinement, which essentially strips the patient of all day-to-day decisions and can include forced medication, must be reviewed periodically by a judge, advocates say, usually every 90 days to six months, to determine whether the patient is eligible for release.
"For someone to be involuntarily committed for 10 years without any legal review, that would be very problematic and a gross abuse of civil liberties," said Bob Davidson, chairman of then-Gov. Richard J. Codey's Task Force on Mental Health in 2005.
Committing someone to a hospital against their will "is generally not something that's done lightly," said Davidson, who is not involved in the case.
"It's a substantial taking of your liberties in that you're confined against your will," said Phillip Lubitz, director of advocacy programs for New Jersey chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Geto declined to comment on the confinement cases. He said that in general, the county adjuster, by state statute, is responsible for tracking case files of all county residents committed involuntarily. The adjuster, he said, initiates a court date for review, and coordinates with the hospital's schedule.
"The county adjuster effectively represents the judicial interest of the patient," Geto said.
The county adjuster during the time in question is no longer a defendant in the suit. Court papers depict her being described by colleagues as "politically connected, too high up" to be removed as a result of the oversight.
"Somebody's got to accept responsibility," Herbert, Burger's lawyer, said. "What happened here should never happen again."
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Old 10-11-2007, 12:39 AM #2
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What a dispectible thing to happen.

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Old 10-11-2007, 03:49 AM #3
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Oh man, how is it possible in this day and age for such a terrible thing to happen. Thanks for posting this bizi.
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Old 10-11-2007, 03:56 AM #4
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This just upsets my stomach to read and think about it.

I do wonder though, were there any family members of these patients that ever came to visit or had concerns about their loved one? Article doesn't mention any. Just curious.

My hearts go out to them.

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