The Mental Hygiene Legal Service, an agency of the New York state government has lashed out at the psychiatric ward at the Brooklyn Kings County Hospital as a shameful "chamber of filth, decay, indifference and danger."
Along with the New York Civil Liberties Union, the agency has filed a suit in the federal court demanding an end to the horrors at the ward, where patients are subjected to overcrowded conditions, physical abuse and unnecessary injections of mood-altering drugs.
Kings County Hospital Center (KCHC) is central Brooklyn's leading healthcare center and the anchor facility for the Central Brooklyn Family Health Network,one of the largest municipal healthcare networks in the United States.
In addition, KCHC handles more than one million patient visits per year, is one of the busiest trauma centers in the country, and operates an off-site Women's
Infant and Children Program and Food and Nutrition Program, it has been proclaimed.
But the lawsuit, filed Wednesday by Sidney Hirschfeld, head of Mental Hygiene Legal Service, paints an appalling picture of the ward and charges patients - including children and the physically disabled - are routinely neglected and abused.
According to the lawsuit, a shortage of beds at the ward forces patients to sleep on foam mats or directly on a floor that is often covered with blood and urine.
Blankets, pillows and pillowcases are scarce, but when they are available, it's common to find them stained with dirt, urine, blood and lice and reeking of body odor.
Soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste and even toilet paper are rare commodities, the suit says.
The lawsuit describes serious neglect and abuse by the staff and police at the Brooklyn hospital, where officers have dragged, kicked and punched patients, the suit claims.
According to the suit, patients deemed "difficult" are handcuffed and forcibly injected with mood-altering drugs and beatings.
"It's a scandal - the conditions here hark back to the Dickensian conditions in the worst facilities that you can think of," said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the plaintiff.
However, in a statement, Alan Aviles, president of the city's Health and Hospitals Corp., said the claims are irresponsible and unfounded.
He conceded the psychiatric ward as "one of the busiest in the nation" and "often experiences overcrowding, " but said the corporation had earmarked $140 million to build a larger state-of-the-art facility, to be completed in fall 2008.