The brother of a man who was abused at a Whiting Forensic Hospital in Middletown, Connecticut says the scope of what he had to endure was “incomprehensible.”
Al Shehadi claims his brother William may have suffered at least a decade of abuse at the hands of staff at the maximum-security facility.
He was speaking at a public hearing before the legislature’s Public Health Committee. Lawmakers are investigating after 10 staff were arrested, and 27 more suspended from Whiting in the scandal.
Shehadi told the hearing he does not accept the claims of the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services that this was an isolated case.
“The commissioner gently tries to frame this as an exception, saying several times, this is not who we are," he said. "I must respectfully disagree with the commissioner. When more than 40 out of 200 staff are implicated in an abuse scandal, when staff feel free to abuse a patient knowing that there is a camera in his room - it may not be who you want to be commissioner, but it absolutely is part of who you are.”
Shehadi said Whiting is a necessary place, but it must be reformed. He urged lawmakers to seek best practices from other states.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Miriam Delphin-Rittmon said the director of Whiting has been replaced and an eight point plan of reform put in place.
“It is indeed very troubling that 37 staff have been implicated in these incidents and that these abuses were not reported to Whiting staff themselves," she said. "We are working very hard to understand how this could have happened and what other measures we should take to ensure that this will never happen again.”
She said the department is taking steps to change the culture at Whiting and improve surveillance of staff.
Delphin-Rittmon has commissioned state police and Department of Public Health officials to conduct investigations into what happened, while also promising an internal look.
But state Senator Heather Somers said that’s not enough. The Republican co-chair of the Public Health Committee said she has “no confidence” that DMHAS leadership could fix this problem.
“I feel that there is a complete lack of accountability of leadership [and] of supervision at this facility,” she said. “There is clearly, from even the most casual observer, no supervision on the floor.”
Somers wants to know more about monitoring procedures at Whiting, saying there were only cameras in certain areas and there wasn’t necessarily a person supervising surveillance at all times.
Delphin-Rittmon responded by saying “around-the-clock video monitoring was not considered a best practice…because, we like other hospitals, need to balance the department’s need for surveillance with our patients need and right for privacy.”
Meanwhile, the man tasked with implementing some of the DMHAS proposed reforms is the new director of Whiting, Dr. Michael Norko.
“Part of our going forward I think is going to be to work closely with our patients and I’m hoping to involve them directly," he told lawmakers.
Jeffrey Santos is a former patient at Whiting. He told WNPR he’s suffered through depression and has even attempted suicide.
He supports Delphin-Rittmon because he believes she has the determination to fix what he calls a systemic problem.
“I think the state needs to just take a step back and understand this has been going on for decades," he said. "You need somebody at the helm with that level of determination to get things fixed to actually create change and I still think to this day that she is that person.”