Justice officials call for release of monitoring of St. Elizabeths

The Justice Department said Thursday that St. Elizabeths Hospital has made “significant improvements” in the care of its patients and asked a federal judge to discontinue the agency’s monitoring of the facility.

Officials filed the request in U.S. District Court, saying court-mandated oversight of the District-
operated psychiatric hospital is no longer needed. The monitoring was put in place after the Justice Department in 2006 found that numerous civil rights violations were made by the hospital regarding patient treatment.

In 2007, Justice Department officials and the District entered into a court settlement agreeing to implement sweeping reforms to the hospital’s operations to address the violations. In 2011, agency officials issued another series of reports in which they found continued patient violence and shortcomings in training in patient care.

But in their latest review, Justice Department officials cited progress at the facility, saying it had increased the levels of clinical staff, lowered its patient population by nearly 50 percent and revised its discharge and community placement orders for those patients released. The hospital was also praised for a new, modern facility on its campus.

“We commend the District and the Department of Behavioral Health for their commitment to reform the clinical practices” at the hospital, Molly Moran, acting assistant attorney general for civil rights, said in a statement. Moran said hospital officials and the Department of Behavioral Health “have made significant and often difficult decisions to change the clinical culture at St. Elizabeths Hospital and ensure that persons confined to the hospital were appropriately discharged and integrated into the community with adequate supports.”

The latest developments came following criticism of the hospital after three patients had walked off the grounds without permission since February.

Even under the request for relief, the hospital’s managers would be required to hold quarterly meetings with the deputy general counsel for the Department of Behavioral Health and University Legal Services, the District’s nonprofit community legal group.

University Legal Services will continue to monitor and meet with hospital officials as well as conduct unannounced visits.

Keith Alexander covers crime, specifically D.C. Superior Court cases for The Washington Post. He has covered dozens of crime stories from Banita Jacks, the Washington woman charged with killing her four daughters, to the murder trial of slain federal intern Chandra Levy.
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