Israeli patient advocacy group finds signs of violence, human rights violations at psych hospital

December 9, 2011

A private psychiatric institution in Pardes Hannah was found to be abusing and neglecting patients, according to representatives of an advocacy group who made several surprise visits to the facility recently.

Bizchut, the Israeli Human Rights Center for People with Disabilities, said on a series of visits its representatives made there over the last year, mentally disabled patients, many with severe psychiatric problems, were found with signs of violence on their bodies. Excrement was found on walls, and patients were found tied to chairs for hours at a time. One man was locked in his room.

Bizchut reported its concerns to the health and social affairs ministries and in June filed a petition with the High Court of Justice seeking to have Ilanit shut down.

When the staff at the facility, which has about 140 patients ranging in age between 20 and 70, were confronted with patients who had been restrained, the patients were released without further explanation. Confining patients under such circumstances is against the law, Bizchut says.

The health and social affairs ministries reportedly continue to refer patients there.

The Social Affairs Ministry had ceased its business relationship with Ilanit, but resumed it a month later. The Health Ministry declined to shut the facility down, but promised to closely oversee what happens there. On that basis, the High Court of Justice declined to intervene.

In the course of a visit to Ilanit in September, representatives of Bizchut found that the premises had been renovated, but also saw residents in chairs equipped with trays that were locked so that the patients could not get out of them. The organization found five such chairs, three of which were in use. One of the patients was confined to the chair for hours on a daily basis, the facility's staff reportedly said.

Bizchut also found three rooms where patients could be confined under lock and key, one of which was occupied. Staff said the man in the room was violent and was therefore locked in his room on a regular basis.

Bizchut said it contacted Social Affairs Minister Moshe Kahlon about the conditions at Ilanit, but did not receive a response. Similar contact with Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman prompted a response from Dr. Gad Lubin, who heads the ministry's mental health division, according to Bizchut. Lubin reportedly said the chairs to which the patients are confined are similar to high chairs in which young children are fed, and can be unlatched by the patients themselves.

Ilanit issued a statement to Haaretz noting that the High Court of Justice had recently dismissed Bizchut's petition. It said the court had reason to do so.

The facility has been in operation for decades, the statement continued, to provide the finest of treatment, and some patients come to Ilanit after treatment at other facilities is unsuccessful. Ilanit operates in accordance with the directives of the health and social affairs ministries and is constantly improving its level of care, the facility said.

The Social Affairs Ministry said it works intensively to improve the lives of the patients there. With regard to Bizchut's allegations regarding the restraint of three residents in chairs, the ministry said the restraints employed are legal and three particular patients the organization singled out are cared for in accordance with a plan approved by a psychiatrist and a social worker.

The Health Ministry said fairness required that the issue of use of restraining chairs be considered in principle and not just with respect to Ilanit, in light of their widespread use at other institutions. Because the law is interpreted in several different ways, the ministry said Lubin would convene a joint committee with the Social Affairs Ministry that would recommend a uniform policy on their use.

By law and according to procedures in effect at the country's psychiatric hospitals, restraint of patients can only be used when necessary, for a limited period of time, and for limited purposes, such as medical treatment or to head off a clear danger to the patient himself or to others. These measures require a doctor's approval.

Bizchut's legal adviser, Sharon Primor, insisted that the restraints used at Ilanit are not to prevent harm or to protect individuals in specific circumstances but rather routinely used in what she called "a way of life."

They are violation of the patients' right to dignity, she claimed.

Source: Dana Weiler-Polak, "Israeli organization: Patients at private psychiatric facility abused: High Court refused to act on report, ministries continue referring patients," Haaretz, December 4, 2011. 


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