Words from last week's State House event, Boston
Greetings readers, I am returning to actively posting on this site. My apologies for a rather silent period - it follows a busy post-bill filing season and adjusting to a new job. But our effort here in Massachusetts is moving ahead! This is a speech I gave, addressing the current civil rights legislation, at a Lobby Day event at the MA State House in Boston a week ago. It's probably the most concise summary of what we are seeking and why. (As you may already know, brevity isn't my strongest suit, but things are getting better!) As always, YOUR voices and YOUR feedback are most welcome, as we move along toward a Spring and Summer of justice. (As soon as Spring starts - snowstorm here tomorrow!)
Today, we’re talking a lot about recovery.
Let’s consider a question: Where and how does recovery start? What kind of environment promotes it?
The seeds of recovery must be planted in soil that is rich with humanity and dignity. For many of us, recovery begins in institutional settings – hospital units and/or group homes.
However, the atmosphere in many of these settings sends messages that hinder recovery.
Right now, the only law in Massachusetts protecting our dignity and our humanity at such places is the Five Fundamental Rights law. But it’s not enforced. This law is broken every single day. And what message does that send? That we’re second-class citizens. We don’t deserve civil rights, even if the law says so, and it’s just too expensive to treat us with dignity.
EVERYONE at psychiatric hospitals and group homes must, under law, be allowed these five rights:
1.) The right to make and receive telephone calls, in private;
2.) The right to send and receive unopened and unread mail;
3.) The right to receive visitors of one’s own choosing, in private;
4.) The right to a humane physical and psychological environment, including privacy and dignity in sleeping, reading, bathing and toileting; and
5.) The right to contact an attorney, outpatient therapist, psychiatrist, doctor or clergy member.
But the reality is much different.
Phones are located in hallways or at nurses’ stations, and often shut off for hours. Mail is opened and censored, and visits are restricted to very short periods of time. Visits happen in common areas, people aren’t allowed to contact lawyers, and bathing and toileting activities are observed, sometimes by members of the opposite sex. How can these conditions promote healing of ANY kind?
House Bill 1430/Senate Bill 986 creates a way for rights complaints to be heard by a neutral third party. NOT hospital employees who may lose their jobs for speaking up, and NOT the chronically-understaffed DMH investigations unit. The bill FINALLY gives us due process – a cornerstone of democracy and fairness.
Likewise with the second part of the bill – the right to experience the essential comforts of fresh air and the outdoors. Mental health facilities are the ONLY places where people can legally be locked inside for long periods of time. We are being robbed of quite possibly the best short-term remedy that exists – the healing power of nature. This is a critical part of recovery for so many people, but at more than 30 hospitals in Massachusetts, it’s not even possible.
The administrators and lobbyists who fiercely oppose this bill believe that providing civil rights costs too much money. They don’t see that people treated with dignity will avoid repeated hospital admissions and treatment interventions – in other words, reducing costs and the incredible strain on the system.
Cost-effective. Ironic, isn’t it? Providing human rights can SAVE money. Why is it opposed so strongly?
Of course, ultimately, it’s not about the money, but something much, much more valuable: the promise of recovery. When the seeds of recovery are sown, hope and freedom flourishes. Please urge your legislators to support this bill, House 1430/Senate 986, an essential part of our ongoing civil rights movement.