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Wards Seized at Palermo Hospital

February 16, 2000

ROME (AP) _ Police have seized three wards at a private psychiatric hospital in Sicily, where more than 100 patients were allegedly found in filthy conditions.

State television aired video shot by police agents posing as repairmen which showed emaciated patients at Villa Stagno hospital in Palermo. The footage showed some patients in urine-soaked beds, a kitchen with rotting food, excrement-smeared floors. There was no hot water.

Prosecutor Marzia Sabella called the scene shocking and said the owner and managers were being investigated for patient abuse and neglect.

``Unfortunately we’ve grown used to seeing scenes even worse than these,″ Sabella said in a telephone interview from the Sicilian capital. ``This is the excuse the Villa Stagno management gave us.″

The owner, Paolo Stagno, denied any wrongdoing. ``These are difficult patients, some of them are incontinent,″ Stagno was quoted as saying by the ANSA news agency. ``But none of them were ever neglected.″

The Associated Press made repeated attempts to reach him without success.

The regional health authority has been paying Villa Stagno $75 a day per patient for years, but officials seemed unaware of the conditions.

``The first I heard of it was on television last night when I saw those shocking images,″ Giancarlo Manenti, head of the regional health department, said.

Manenti said he suspended the official in charge of monitoring Villa Stagno on Tuesday and is transferring patients to other hospitals.

Conditions in sections of the hospital catering to more affluent private patients were described as significantly better than in the shuttered wards.

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