Our Turn: SPU is a ‘state-sanctioned psychiatric gulag’

Published: 9/25/2016 12:10:35 AM

Last week, the final recommendation of a legislative subcommittee was released regarding HB 1541. That proposed legislation would have prohibited the state from sending non-adjudicated, civilly committed individuals to the Secure Psychiatric Unit at the state prison for men in Concord.

The committee chair, Rep. Ken Snow, indicated no further action would be taken on the bill, as the state needs to focus on improving the overall mental health system. He indicated that “seven to 10 individuals” in SPU did not rise to the level of any action when weighed against the larger failures of the mental health system.

What? That’s right. It is acceptable to a group of New Hampshire legislators who voted 5-1 to allow individuals to languish in a state-sanctioned psychiatric gulag.

Snow praised some of the employees of SPU, indicating that individuals receive “excellent care” while housed in SPU. Really? How on earth does he know that?

SPU is a fortress. It does not have to report or comply with any of the licensing requirements, inspections or sentinel event reporting other health care facilities in the state do.

The cost of delivering care on a daily basis in SPU is about a third of what is spent in New Hampshire Hospital. But by far the most disturbing aspect of the hearing was the testimony of several family members and one individual who was housed in SPU for more than 5 years.

These individuals alleged abuse and neglect. They also opened the door to an interesting issue. It seems that SPU is limiting the administration of certain controlled substance to those housed there.

One individual stated that their loved one needed an anti-anxiety drug but was not receiving it. That individual went on to state that the prison advised her that due to the “high street value,” the drugs were used on a very selective basis.

Is SPU dealing with a drug diversion problem? So because the prison has a security issue, vulnerable individuals are left without medications they had previously taken? Who knows what goes on in that place.

SPU has nothing to do with recovery and restoration. It is a Frankenstein hybrid of corrections and psychiatry. SPU is not a forensic hospital, but a dubious imposter.

Department of Corrections official Paula Mattis attended the hearing. She was present for the troubling allegations that were set forth. Mattis is a mandated reporter.

DOC spokesman Jeff Lyons was also present when these allegations were made. So when is the investigation going to commence, Ms. Mattis? Will DOC and DHHS be following up on these allegations?

They will not disappear simply because they are ignored.

As many compassionate and concerned individuals wait for the arrival of the Department of Justice, the statements by these individuals have changed the narrative. The most serious allegations that can be made have been. Hopefully, when DOJ arrives, they will be investigated fully.

Silence is the historic position of complicity.

(Beatrice Coulter and Wanda Duryea are the founders of Advocates for Ethical Mental Health Treatment.)

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