A proposed class action out of Washington federal court seeks to challenge Fairfax Hospital’s alleged practice of conducting random strip and cavity searches of its patients. According to the lawsuit, the Kirkland psychiatric hospital discriminates against patients with mental health issues by subjecting them to highly invasive searches without proper justification, oversight, and documentation.
The plaintiff, who filed the lawsuit under a pseudonym, says that upon being admitted to the hospital, she was forced to remove her clothing for a strip search per the institution’s “blanket policy.” The woman protested, informing the staff members that she had a history of sexual abuse, yet was ordered to undergo the search anyway, the case says. Video cameras in the hallway and the room where the strip search was conducted recorded the plaintiff in various states of undress, the lawsuit goes on, but the footage was supposedly destroyed after the woman filed a grievance against the hospital.
The plaintiff says she was then informed that staff would conduct a cavity search, at which point she “began screaming and crying and curled up in a ball on the floor.” A staff member allegedly threatened to call a male employee to restrain the woman and conduct the search, while a second staff member suggested a slightly less humiliating option with which the plaintiff complied “in order to avoid any potential interaction with male Fairfax staff.”
At no point “during this humiliating process,” the lawsuit states, did staff members assess the need for a strip and cavity search by determining the plaintiff’s safety risk to herself or others. The searches were allegedly conducted without any documentation or “clinical determination” from a professional that they were necessary, even though mental health professionals, according to the suit, were readily available at the hospital.
The lawsuit points out that other psychiatric hospitals in the state employ policies designed to protect patients from unnecessary searches, such as requiring a “credible report” justifying the search, approval from a physician or executive, and documentation of the reasons for, results of, and persons involved with the search.
“On information and belief, no psychiatric hospital in Washington State other than Fairfax permits its staff to arbitrarily conduct strip searches or cavity searches,” the complaint reads.
Fairfax’s policy of subjecting patients to “unjustified, unsupervised, and undocumented” searches violates the standard of care for a psychiatric hospital, the case alleges, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act.