Mental Hospital Appeals Case of Man’s Solitary Confinement
By DENA POTTER
By Dena Potter
The Associated Press
A Virginia mental hospital urged a state human rights committee Friday to reject a lower panel’s findings that it violated the law by holding a mentally ill patient in solitary confinement for 20 years.
The hospital argued the patient should continue existing treatment and remain isolated from others because he is violent.
Western State Hospital’s director argued that a local human rights committee erred in May when it found that the hospital violated laws governing the use of seclusion in the case.
The patient, Cesar Chumil, lives in a dormitory-style room with a separate bathroom and a small outdoor area where he remains separated from other patients. His meals are pushed through a slot in a solid door that remains locked.
Dr. Jack Barber argued that Chumil is so violent that it is safer to keep him in the so-called limited containment suite, calling that the least restrictive way to treat him.
Virginia law outlines when patients can be secluded and restrained and requires those methods be used only in extreme circumstances and for short periods.
The hospital had received permission – a so-called variance – from the state human rights committee to allow a doctor to sign off on Chumil’s seclusion every 24 hours, instead of every four hours.
Barber asked the committee to renew that variance, which expired in September.
But Chumil’s attorney, Nathan Veldhuis, urged the committee to reject the hospital’s request for what he described as effectively a standing order for Chumil’s seclusion.
“There should be no authoritative body that can declare the law not to be the law,” Veldhuis argued.
The committee is expected to rule on both the appeal and the variance on Aug. 1.
Chumil has been in solitary confinement for long periods of time since the 1980s, when he came to Western State Hospital and was diagnosed as paranoid and schizophrenic. Chumil has lived in permanent isolation since 1993.
At that time, Chumil’s family supported the idea of the containment suite, but Veldhuis said they didn’t expect it would last this long.
Despite his living arrangements, Chumil has been allowed numerous trips with his family to local parks, his favorite restaurants and Wal-Mart unaccompanied by hospital staff.
The local human rights committee recommended that Chumil be transferred to a facility closer to his family in northern Virginia and that a treatment plan be developed that includes increasing increments of time out of his suite while at Western State, located in Staunton.
A lower panel found that a hospital had violated the law by confining and isolating a patient for 20 years. Virginia law says the methods used should be for short periods.
Originally published by BY DENA POTTER.
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