Treatment a la Sharfstein: "A Living Nightmare"
Harold Koplewicz promotes himself as "one of the nation's premier child and
adolescent psychiatrists." Koplewicz, of Bellevue Hospital and New York University's
School of Medicine, has expounded upon the "need" for intervention by Child
Protective Services if a family declines to drug a child after a psychiatric
diagnosis. In the context of the human rights violations described in this
edition, his advocacy of drugging and coercive acts against children and families
is one more example of the APA's arrogance and perverse view of individual
An ongoing investigation by Freedom shows that the Maryland-based Sheppard Pratt psychiatric facilities that Sharfstein oversees as president and CEO exploit coercive methods that range from threats of involuntary commitment to forced drugging, restraints and brutal electric shocks. Sheppard Pratt charges tens of thousands of dollars for shock "treatments" that last mere seconds, but permanently damage the brain.
A Baltimore mother and city employee, who asked that her name not be used, described the month she spent at Sheppard Pratt's flagship facility, the Sheppard and Enoch Pratt psychiatric hospital in Baltimore, as "the worst 30 days of my life." She was taken there by ambulance from another hospital after complaining of extreme back and other pains. At Sheppard and Enoch Pratt, she said, "I was seen by a doctor who informed me that I had just two alternatives — to sign the hospital's release for voluntary admission or be involuntarily committed."
She signed the voluntary admission form and the following day, believing she was free to leave because she had been voluntarily admitted, asked to be released. After submitting one of the hospital's "Notice to Leave" forms to a psychiatrist, however, she said, "I was told I would be involuntarily committed if I did not withdraw the form."
Bowing to the involuntary commitment threat, she withdrew the Notice to Leave, a scenario that repeated several times over the month — until her husband's insurance coverage ran out and the hospital discharged her.
Much of her month-long ordeal, which she described as "a living nightmare," was spent in a "seclusion room" or "quiet room," where she was forcibly injected with Haldol, a drug so powerful she called it "a chemical straitjacket." Haldol is a "major tranquilizer" or "neuroleptic" (nerve-seizing) drug in the same class as Thorazine. (See "The Littlest 'Guinea Pigs,'" page 27.)
Such a room, she said, is a small, cell-like chamber with a mattress on the floor. She was barred from leaving the room or from speaking to anyone. Despite her protests, she was injected with Haldol several times. Orderlies held her down while she begged not to be given the drug.
|"I would tell all parents never to contact him," said children's advocate Patty Weathers. If you have kids, she added, don't walk away from Koplewicz, "Run as fast as you can!"|
"On almost a daily basis throughout my confinement," she said, she witnessed patients being "pounced on by a group of orderlies, wrapped in a blanket, and carried" off into seclusion, presumably to be brutalized and injected as she was.
After being released, she went to a specialist to locate the source of the severe pains that Sheppard Pratt psychiatrists had brushed off as unimportant. His examination found it was necessary for her to have ovarian surgery — an operation that alleviated her physical problems.
"Suffering, and Even Torture"
Peter Dockx, chief investigator with the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, told Freedom of abuses he has probed at Sheppard Pratt facilities. One involved a man who voluntarily admitted himself to the Sheppard and Enoch Pratt psychiatric hospital. Once inside, however, Dockx said, "The hospital staff treated him as a prisoner, not as a patient."
According to information received from this individual, Dockx said, "The staff of his ward ran it with iron hands, like a jail, literally dragging people to their rooms and forcing them to remain there. He saw two patients taken away in straitjackets for speaking back to orderlies or being reluctant to follow the instructions given to them. When they returned several days later, they told him they had been taken out and given ECT."
According to Dockx, the man said that even years after being released, he continues to have nightmares about his experiences at Sheppard Pratt.
Another case drawn to Freedom's attention involved a young boy who bounced for two years between state-supervised foster care facilities and the Sheppard and Enoch Pratt psychiatric hospital, where he was subjected to seclusion, restraints and psychotropic drugs, becoming more antisocial and violent as a result of the dehumanizing "treatments."
"Sharfstein's 'vision statement' on Sheppard Pratt's web site boasts of 'quality psychiatric treatment,'" said Dockx. "How does one describe that quality? In the words of the victims, it is one of suffering, and even torture — all while extracting the greatest amount of cash possible."
When Sheppard Pratt was contacted by Freedom, its vice president for corporate business development, Bonnie Katz, cited sections of Maryland regulations which, in her words, "govern the due process which patients must be afforded."
Evidence indicates, however, that Sheppard Pratt may have violated these very sections and that alleged abuses warrant inspection by state authorities. One section, for example, states that "Staff may not coerce a patient into entering the quiet room" and that "Use of a quiet room may be terminated at any time ... [u]pon the decision of the patient."
Abuses under the Sheppard Pratt umbrella are being investigated by Freedom for, among other things, violation of Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."