Testimony on Proposed Revisions to the Human Rights Regulations

October 28, 1998 Public Hearing

I am Caitlin Wright, and I am here representing the Virginia Alliance for the Mentally Ill (VAMI). Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the revised draft of the human rights regulations. We have supported updating the regs for some time, and many of our members were involved in that process, when it began a few years ago.

Let me start by telling you that VAMI supports the testimony given to you by the Northern Virginia Mental Health Consumers Association (NVMHCA) and the Northern Virginia Mental Health Institute’s Local Human Rights Committee during yesterdays hearing in Northern Virginia..  We had worked with them in reviewing and proposing changes to the draft regulations. Rather than walk through those recommendations line by line, I would ask that you note the support of the family members around the state in
considering those recommendations.

There is an aspect of the regulations that I believe absolutely must receive attention. There is no oversight mechanism regarding the tracking and monitoring of Variances issued to the human rights regulations. The process of issuing Variances, which allows  programs and facilities to override the regulations, and violate the rights of consumers that are dependant on those programs and facilities for care is a critical issue. Yet no one is watching.

I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Office of Human Rights a few months ago, requesting information on the variances to the blue books that have been requested and approved. I was dismayed to learn that the Office of Human Rights does not track Variances in any cogent, meaningful way. After about 10 weeks of requesting information, I was given a list of the specific regulations that have variances approved, but the Office of Human Rights was unable to provide the number of variances or t he location of the variances by program or facility. I have attached a copy of the memo I received to the testimony I submitted for your review.

I propose that an oversight mechanism be developed. This could be in the form of  mandate for the quarterly collection and review of all Variances requested and those that have been approved. These documents should be made public and should be used to demand corrective action in accountability. This data would be useful in a number of ways. First, given the abysmal state of our mental health system and the inadequacy of the human rights system to protect people from abuse, neglect, and at times, death, an a dditional layer of review can only enhance the protections for consumers.  Second, data aggregated by program or facility would give systemic snapshots of the current quality of care and the human rights protections in each locality and facility. For instance, hopefully it would raise issues with such things as why it is that in one facility in the state, variances are not permitted at all, while in another facility, they seem to be offered with no critical oversight at all?

At this time, there are consumers in a facility that are forced to wear jumpsuits locked at their necks as a substitute for appropriate treatment, supervision and training. Another consumer there has lived in isolation for years, with the blessing of the human rights system. A system that was designed to protect him. These types of rights violations are unacceptable according the standard of the Department of Justice, and the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, but they have been deemed acceptabl e to the human rights system in Virginia. On behalf of VAMI, I am asking you to protect those consumers most at risk for having their rights violated by providing for the necessary oversight of a system that has approved unethical, inhumane variances as a matter of convenience to the institutions.

Thank you.

Caitlin Wright Binning, MSW