Key Northern Virginia legislators and the state American Civil Liberties Union called today for an independent investigation of incidents of alleged patient abuse and violence at Western State Hospital in Staunton.
A probe of charges by several employes that they were harassed by hospital administrators for reporting such incidents also will be sought, they said.
Del. Dorothy McDiarmid, the Fairfax Democrat who heads the House appropriations subcommittee that oversees the budget of the large state-operated mental facility, called the allegations "a bombshell" and said they should be probed by "someone quite impartial" outside of state government. t
She was joined by Fairfax Del. Vincent F. Callahan, the region's senior Republican legislator and also an appropriations subcommittee member. Callahan said he will ask Republican Gov. John N. Dalton to appoint an independent panel.
The ACLU released a letter sent last week to Owen Brodie, chairman of the state Human Rights Committee, a panel of private citizens appointed by Virginia's Mental Health Commissioner, asking the group to probe the hospital. Brodie, a Richmond psychiatrist, said today the committee would meet on the issue next Friday, adding "It sounds like this might be mostly a personnel matter but I can assure you that if any patient abuse or neglect is going on, we jolly well will see that it ends."
The calls for an investigatin follow a series of articles in The Washington Post outlining allegations of sexual and other assaults by patients on other patients, resulting in part from improper mixing of the criminally insane with chronically ill patients.
The series also detailed overuse of solitary confinement as punishment and of illegal confinement for up to seven years of more than 250 patients improperly classified as "voluntary residents."
Two hospital officials who charged that Western State administrators were negligent in dealing with the hospital's problems were temporarily suspended without pay from their jobs this week.
ACLU director Chan Kendrick said his group would represent the two officials, Social Services Director Brendan Buschi and Quality Assurance Director Gary Hardley, in their appeal of the suspensions.
Kendrick said the response of Western State's administrator and of the state Department of Mental Health and Retardation was "typical of bureaucrats under attack. First they imply that there is no problem. Second, they say that if there is a problem it is no worse at Western State than anywhere else. Third, they attack the persons who exposed the problem."
Dalton's press secretary, Charles Davis said of the allegations that "some of that stuff is really a little old. . . . I'm told some of that has been under review and some actions have been taken," although Davis said he could not be more specific.
Jean Harris, the governor's secretary of human resources, said she was awaiting a report from department officials on the complaints, adding she did not believe an outside investigation was necessary at this time. She also denied that Buschi and Hardley's suspensions were an effort to punish them for criticizing the hospital publicly, saying the two were suspended for violating department policies.
Several lawmakers contended similar in-house probes by the department in the past had proved inadequate. Arlington Del. Warren G. Stambaugh, who chairs the House health subcommittee, said that if employes were threatened for speaking out publicly, "we can put the kabosh on that very quickly . . . we'll just convene a little meeting of the subcommittee at Western State and see what happens."