California Department of State Hospitals Director Stephanie Clendenin and Patton State Hospital (DSH-Patton) Executive Director Janine Wallace face a proposed class action lawsuit that seeks the immediate release, discharge or transfer of certain psychiatric patients due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
The 37-page lawsuit, filed in federal court by five residents alongside non-profit agency Disability Rights California, says at least 112 patients and 147 staff members at Patton State Hospital, one of the largest psychiatric facilities in the country, have tested positive for COVID-19 and at least two patients have died from complications stemming from the virus.
“The facility is in the midst of an outbreak,” the complaint says. “There is no vaccine for the virus. There is no effective treatment. Although DSH-Patton provides psychiatric treatment to patients, it is not equipped to provide essential medical care.”
Facilities such as DSH-Patton, which the suit describes as resembling “a jail or prison facility more closely than a community-based hospital,” are particularly susceptible to the transmission of COVID-19 given the close contact between residents and poor ventilation, the case relays. Per the complaint, DSH-Patton employs more than 2,000 staff members and houses more than 1,500 patients who are confined to locked units containing roughly 50 people, all of whom, the plaintiffs say, share a single bathroom, eating area, communal lounge, and a few telephones.
According to the lawsuit, social distancing and other COVID-19 prevention measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are impossible for those inside DSH-Patton, which houses individuals convicted or accused of crimes linked to mental illness, “given their conditions of confinement.”
The plaintiffs allege the defendants’ failure to take precautionary measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 at DSH-Patton has significantly threatened patients’ lives and well-being. The individuals, who the suit says suffer from an array of conditions including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney and liver disease, diabetes and obesity, claim they are highly vulnerable to illness or death should they contract the virus.
Contrary to Department of State hospital protocols, however, staff at DSH-Patton “do not routinely sanitize high-touch common surfaces,” such as tables, chairs and phones, and do not wear masks despite consistently interacting with patients across multiple units, the lawsuit claims.
While some courts and custodial authorities nationwide have prioritized the release of high-risk detainees for the sake of slowing the spread of COVID-19, the defendants, in contrast, “have taken no meaningful steps to modify their policies and procedures” despite the current outbreak of the virus at DSH-Patton, the lawsuit alleges.
“On information and belief, Defendants have denied every request made by Plaintiffs and other high-risk patients to be moved to a safe, non-congregate setting,” the suit reads, alleging the defendants have refused to move even those who “have completed or are close to completing their treatment goals.”
“Ultimately, Defendants’ efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 at DSH-Patton have not proved effective. The number of people testing positive for COVID-19 at DSH-Patton continues to rise,” the suit says.
The complaint notes that Disability Rights California, the plaintiffs’ counsel, and other groups reached out to the defendants in April and May 2020 to assess all DSH residents statewide and release patients deemed high risk.
The proposed class action looks to represent all individuals confined in DSH-Patton amid the COVID-19 pandemic who, “pursuant to CDC guidelines, are or might be at high risk for becoming severely ill or dying from COVID-19.” According to the complaint, DSH-Patton houses “almost certainly several hundred people” who are categorized pursuant to CDC guidelines as “high risk.”
ClassAction.org’s coverage of COVID-19 litigation can be found here and over on our Newswire.