DOC denies allegations of mold, misuse of medications at Mass. hospital

A report also outlined at least 370 cases of improper use of chemical restraints or sedatives used by staff to subdue patients

By Amy Sokolow
Boston Herald

BRIDGEWATER, Mass. — The Department of Correction denied findings by a watchdog group published earlier this year that decried conditions at Bridgewater State Hospital, including pervasive mold and improper use of medications to subdue patients.

“The DOC carefully reviewed the report and disagrees with DLC’s allegations that the condition of the physical plant is unsafe, that DOC’s mold remediation work has been deficient, and that care of Persons Served is contrary to state law,” Commissioner Carol Mici wrote in response to the report’s findings.

The sign at the entrance to the Bridgewater Correctional Complex.
The sign at the entrance to the Bridgewater Correctional Complex. (Photo/Chris Christo of Boston Herald via MCT)

The report was issued by the independent Disability Law Center, which was appointed by the state courts and codified by the state Legislature’s budget to perform regular oversight of the facility, which houses male patients who have been civilly committed to the site and who are sent there for court-ordered psychiatric evaluations.

This appointment, state Rep. Ruth Balser, D- Newton, lends legitimacy to the report’s findings. Balser, who’s filed bills to change the oversight structure at Bridgewater, was disappointed in the governor’s and Department of Correction’s lack of acknowledgement of the facility’s issues.

As the Herald previously reported, the report detailed visible mold on structures throughout the facility, as well as exposed asbestos. The type of mold a mycologist found onsite could lead to lung irritations, pneumonia and skin infections, among other ailments.

The report also outlined at least 370 cases of improper use of chemical restraints, or sedatives used by staff to subdue patients.

The DOC letter notes that the report did not mention that the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations had reviewed and renewed accreditation for the facility in July 2021. Commissioner Mici also defended the “substantial renovations” Bridgewater has undergone to remediate mold since 2018, and said that DOC has recently approved over $88,000 for “additional air quality testing and asbestos and mold remediation.”

The letter added that the use of restraints has actually decreased in terms of the time spent in them, as well as the newly broadened definition of restraints.

Tatum Pritchard, who authored the report, said her organization stands by its findings, grounded in a mold expert’s observations and lab testings, records reviews and “a firm grasp of the history of the facility as well as applicable law.”

“They are promising changes, which is a good thing, but they kind of don’t want to admit that they need to,” said Jim Pingeon, the litigation director at Prisoner’s Legal Services, who has handled multiple Bridgewater patient cases.

Pingeon said he found “particularly disturbing” the DOC’s claim that the report had misconstrued the definition of emergency treatment orders, used to involuntarily medicate patients at Bridgewater.

“They are so blatantly in violation of the laws governing chemical restraint and the use of medications to sedate people,” he said. “I didn’t think that they would make a defense that was so weak.”

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