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David Mittleman
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Kings County Hospital Agrees to Improve Conditions in Psychiatric Units

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According to federal officials, the Brooklyn, NY hospital responsible for the death of Esmin Green has agreed to improve conditions of confinement in their psychiatric emergency room and psychiatric in-patient units. New York City, the Justice Department, and lawyers representing mentally ill patients at Kings County Hospital reached an agreement that will allow a federal judge to monitor conditions at the hospital. Under the specific terms of the settlement, the New York Civil Liberties Union, Mental Hygiene Legal Services, and Kirkland & Ellis will partner with the Justice Department to closely monitor the hospital for the next five years to ensure that it is fulfilling its obligations to protect patients. U.S. District Judge Kiyo A. Matsumoto signed the consent decree last Thursday.

In June 2008, Green, a 49-year-old woman, collapsed in the Kings County Hospital psychiatric emergency room after waiting 23 hours to be seen by a doctor. In fact, a surveillance video showed that she eventually collapsed on the waiting room floor while hospital employees, including doctors and security staff, walked in and out of the area and ignored her. According to the medical examiner, Green died of blood clots in her legs due to prolonged sitting.

A lawsuit was originally filed in May 2007 by Mental Hygiene Legal Services, the New York Civil Liberties Union and Kirkland & Ellis. Soon after, the Justice Department launched an independent investigation and released a report in February that detailed patterns of sexual and other violent assaults on psychiatric unit patients. Furthermore, the Justice Department also found that suicidal behavior was often left untreated, patients sexually abused one another, and medical staff emphasized subduing patients through drugs and physical restraints instead of treating their conditions. Therefore, many of the improvements in the consent decree are routine procedure mandates designed to ensure that the facility is clean, food is not spoiled, and that patients are treated properly.