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Revised Laws to Protect Mental Patients Possible This Year

April 3, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ New legal protections for the mentally ill can be enacted this year, says Sen. Lowell Weicker, R-Conn., who has documented widespread abuses in state institutions for the mentally disabled.

He told a hearing Tuesday by the Senate subcommittee on the handicapped that he hopes to put back into the law a bill of rights for the mentally ill and strengthen the certification process for state institutions.

″I can’t emphasize enough my own fear of seeing these issues raised and then having nothing happen,″ Weicker said. ″I think it’s fair to assume that we can accomplish these two items this calendar year.″

Weicker said ″the accreditation process is no process at all″ at present, with states virtually certifying themselves.

Protection and advocacy measures and a bill of rights for the mentally ill were dropped in legislative reshuffling years ago, although they still exist for the mentally retarded, he said.

Another goal - ″some program that enhances training of personnel at institutions″ - will be a little more difficult, he said, because of battles over the federal budget.

A fourth goal will require new legislation, he noted. That is, some form of inspector general or special prosecutor to look into alleged mistreatment of patients at mental institutions and to pursue such cases.

Richard Wellwood of East Lansing, Mich., said his Justice in Mental Health Organization, Inc., has assisted about 700 individuals who have been in various state mental health hospitals.

″Their stories are all the same,″ he said. ″They have all experienced terror, overdrugging, abuse, and worst of all, rape. How can we continue to allow these large institutions to exist? How can we continue to allow coed wards?″

Wellwood added: ″What these large institutions do is make victims out of their patients, victims of society. The patients are punished for anything and everything that is natural to them. They are like people who have been held hostage.

″In the beginning of their incarceration they fight back. Then, because of the punishments they begin to cooperate. Towards the end of their incarceration they begin to like their captors, as did Patty Hearst. These people are broken. They are never prepared to re-enter society and the community.″

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