The 30 patients living on the St. Elizabeths Hospital ward where an 84-year-old woman was kicked to death Monday are being locked out of their rooms during the day in order to make it easier for hospital staff to keep track of the patients, according to a hopital spokesman.
Harold Thomas said the Edith M. Haydon Pavilion "is a problem because it has some 90-degree angles that are impossible to see around from the nursing stations."
Thomas said locking the doors is "not the best solution because it means patients are all going to have to do the same things at the same time."
Dennis Michael Wilson, a 19-year-old patient at the hospital, was charged with homicide in connection with the death of Mary Braxton, a long-term patient at St. Elizabeths, the federally run mental hospital which serves Washington area residents primarily.
Braxton, who died at 2:20 p.m. Monday, was "literally stomped to death," according to a D.C. homicide detective.
The ward on which the two patients were confined was once used as a geriatric ward, but in recent years was integrated with younger patients. The median age on the ward is 60, said Thomas, who said the ages ranged all the way from 19 to 84.
According to Thomas, the hospital moved away from the practice of age segregation in the late 1960s because of a general feeling in the psychiatric community that patients should be in heterogeneous groups "because that's the way the world is. If you didn't think that way, you weren't thought to be forward thinking," said Thomas.
"Before the incident we were moving 90 elderly people out of that building into one of our medical units," said Thomas, who explained that hospital officials are no longer sold on the proposition that heferogeneous groupings are either necessary or beneficial to the patients, particularly to the elderly patients.
There is no plan, he said to speed up the move of the 90 patients because of the murder Monday.
"Some of our assaults before have been 64-year-old patients attacking 89-year-old patients, putting people together on the basis of age along is a simplistic approach," said Thomas. He was referring to a 1974 incident in which an 89-year-old woman died a month after being attacked and knocked down by a 64-year-old patient.
In 1971 a 51-year-old patient at the hospital was strangled by a 27-year-old patient, according to D.C. police.
Following that incident, then Supt. Luther D. Robinson said of the 27-year-old patient, "you can't predict 100 per cent what the outcome of rehabilitation will be."
Yesterday Thomas said of the latest incident. "The young man had not shown any signs of this type of behavior and clinically he was not a candidate for this type of behavior. He had come in voluntarilly."