ACLU of Virginia Demands Veterans Hospital Lift Ban on Patients’ Visitors

Affiliate: ACLU of Virginia
April 11, 2007 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Virginia
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CONTACT: media@aclu.org

Policy Violates Patients’ Constitutional Rights and Federal Regulations

HAMPTON, VA — The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia today sent a letter to the Hampton Veterans Affairs Medical Center demanding that it rescind a two-year old policy preventing psychiatric patients from receiving visitors. The civil liberties organization says it is considering litigation, but hopes to resolve the matter without going to court.

In his letter, ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis said that the blanket prohibition on visitors for all psychiatric inpatients violates the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs regulations, which require that “each patient be provided the opportunity to meet with visitors during regularly scheduled visiting hours.”

The ACLU letter also said that the ban violates U.S. Supreme Court decisions holding that patients in public mental health facilities are entitled to appropriate care as determined by the professional judgment of the medical community. The group contends that a ban on visitors appears to strongly contradict accepted medical procedures.

“Outside the legal issues, it is hard to fathom how a public hospital came to the indefensible conclusion that it could and should stop visitations with patients,” said Willis. “Hospital administrators must be far out of touch with the needs of patients and their own professional standards if they think for one moment that this was a solution to a problem.”

The issue came to light when, according to the Daily Press, Nancy Washabaugh admitted her husband, Chip, to the Hampton Veterans Affairs Medical Center in January. He was first admitted to the Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Richmond, where his wife was able to visit and take walks with him during visiting hours. However, when his psychiatric condition did not improve, he was moved to the Hampton facility to receive shock therapy.

A week after Chip was admitted, Nancy visited the medical center to consult with doctors and was disturbed by her husband’s disheveled and unkempt appearance. Unable to monitor her husband’s condition or offer assistance, including helping him to stay active, she prepared to move her husband to the Medical College of Virginia. But before she could do so, he died from a blood clot, which can be caused by inactivity or prolonged bed rest.

“This was a tragic ending for Chip Washabaugh,” said Willis. “In Vietnam he risked his life defending the same constitutional principles that he was denied when he sought treatment at a VA hospital.”

A copy of the ACLU’s letter, addressed to Priscilla Hankins, Chief of Psychiatric Services at Hampton VAMC, is available at: www.acluva.org/newsreleases2007/HamptonVAMC_ltr.pdf.

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