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Public Health Committee drills hospital administrators over alleged patient abuse

HARTFORD  — State officials expressed surprise at the extent of alleged abuse that took place at Connecticut's only maximum-security psychiatric hospital, during Monday's Public Health Committee public hearing on the matter.

Miriam Dephin-Rittmon, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services Commissioner, told state lawmakers Monday that top officials "never had information that would suggest a pattern this significant."

Thirty-seven employees at Whiting Forensic Division of the Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown have been implicated in the alleged abuse of a patient. Seven have been fired and 10 have been arrested.

Dephin-Rittmon said fear and intimidation helped to cover up the alleged abuse, which she says "has sickened me and haunted me" ever since she saw the video evidence.

She said her agency is "working very hard to understand how this could happen," noting it's "not reflective of our whole system."

During the day long hearing, the brother of the patient at the center of the abuse allegations spoke publicly for the first time.

“I am the brother and co-conservator of Bill Shehadi the, until now, unnamed patient at the center of the Whiting abuse scandal,” he said. He gave a brief history of his brother to the Committee and explained how he was court appointed to be at Whiting Forensic.

“At 21 he fell into a deep depression and has been seriously mentally ill ever since. My brother is not is also not an angel, he killed my father 22 years ago, our father, because of his illness he didn’t know what he was doing but the loss is still the same,” Shehadi said.

He also told the Public Health Committee that he found out about the abuse his brother was allegedly suffering “by accident.” He also said it was not until late May, months after the police investigation into the accusations began, that he was shown selected clips from the video which reportedly captured the abuse from inside his brother’s room at Whiting.

“I was completely unprepared for what I saw. The videos I saw convey an atmosphere of constant menace.  It was the feeling of cat’s playing with a cornered mouse that was most disturbing to me,” Shehadi explained.

During his testimony he also quoted the police arrest warrants for the 10 workers accused of abusing his brother.

“Staff #5 places the mop on the patients head and mops the patient’s head several times. Staff #2 and staff #9 were present,” Shehadi said, speaking diligently and emphatically.

He also told the committee that as the co-conservator for his brother, or the person responsible for making decisions on his behalf, he has interacted with Whiting for at least 15 years.

“The culture of whiting is not pretty. I might describe Whiting as the awkward marriage of a prison and a hospital with a culture of hardness, insularity and control,” Shehadi said.  He went onto say, “When there’s such an absence of accountability that 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 is absolutely part of who you are.”

Shehadi called out the Dephlin-Rittmon, whose department is responsible for overseeing Whiting and the entire Connecticut Valley Hospital.