Disability Rights California and Covington & Burling LLP File Lawsuit to Protect State Psychiatric Hospital Patients from COVID-19

Hundreds of Vulnerable Patients Stuck in Crowded Facility Hit by COVID-19 Outbreak; At Least Two Dead
Press Release
A woman with a medical mask in a Psychiatric Hospital

(Los Angeles, CA) - Yesterday, Disability Rights California (DRC) and Covington & Burling LLP filed a federal lawsuit to protect patients who are highly vulnerable to severe illness or death if they contract COVID-19 at Patton State Hospital (DSH-Patton), a California Department of State Hospital (DSH) in San Bernardino, California.  We are seeking immediate action to protect the health and well-being of these medically vulnerable patients, including through discharge or transfer to safer, non-congregate settings.

DSH-Patton, one of the largest psychiatric hospitals in the country, has been hit with a significant outbreak of COVID-19, which poses a threat to more than 1,500 people detained at the facility.  A substantial number of the patients held at DSH-Patton have chronic physical health conditions that increase their risk for COVID-19 complications. Unlike traditional medical hospitals, psychiatric hospitals such as DSH-Patton are simply not designed to resist the spread of viral infection.

Today, there have been more than 100 patients and more than 140 DSH staff members and other personnel at DSH-Patton who have tested positive for the virus.  At least two patients who tested positive have died. New cases continue to occur.

Ervin Longstreet, a Navy veteran and cancer survivor with multiple medical conditions that put him at high risk, requested DSH to transfer or discharge him to a safer setting in early June.  In his request, he noted that he has family ready to support him with both treatment and sheltering-in-place. DSH denied Mr. Longstreet’s request, even after it found him eligible for discharge to a transitional program in Los Angeles. Mr. Longstreet remains detained. He fears that, because of the outbreak of COVID-19 at DSH-Patton, “this is turning into a life sentence.” 

In California, public officials and advocates have taken steps to protect the health and safety of detainees and staff at jails, prisons, and immigration detention facilities as COVID-19 outbreaks threaten their health and lives.  But patients in psychiatric hospitals—who are confined after having committed or having been accused of crimes linked to their mental illness or because they are deemed gravely disabled under civil commitment laws—have been all but forgotten.

DRC has advocated for the release or transfer of several DSH patients at high risk for severe illness or death from COVID-19. Many of these patients have completed or are close to completing their treatment goals at DSH. For some patients, DSH has long recommended them for release but has failed to secure placement in an appropriate program outside of DSH.  None of DRC’s clients have been released or transferred to date. “The terrible reality is that prior to and even since the outbreak reached Patton, no one has prioritized getting these high-risk clients out, even when it can be done safely,” said Anne Hadreas, an attorney at DRC.

“Bureaucratic obstacles have long kept patients from discharging to community-based programs where they can live safely and successfully,” said Sarah Gregory, Senior Attorney at DRC. “But when lives are literally at risk, more must be done to protect vulnerable patients. That’s the sort of moment we are in right now.”

The lawsuit asks the court to take necessary steps to safeguard the health of the patients at DSH-Patton, first by identifying patients who have COVID-19 high-risk factors and then conducting expedited individualized assessments of all high-risk patients to effectuate their discharge or transfer to a safe, non-congregate setting. 

The lawsuit also asks the court to order DSH-Patton to take all necessary precautions pursuant to CDC Guidelines to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and to appoint a monitor to ensure compliance with the court’s order. 

“The patients at DSH-Patton have no effective means to protect themselves from contracting COVID-19. It is critical for DSH to act immediately,” said Samantha Choe, Special Counsel at Covington & Burling.

A copy of the federal lawsuit and information about the case are available at:  Hart v. Clendenin

News Coverage

Media Contacts:

Melody Pomraning
Communications Director
Disability Rights California
916-504-5938
Melody.Pomraning@disabilityrightsca.org

 

 

Disability Rights California (DRC) is the agency designated under federal law to protect and advocate for the rights of Californians with disabilities. The mission of DRC is to advance the rights, dignity, equal opportunities, and choices for all people with disabilities. For more information visit: https://www.disabilityrightsca.org.

Covington & Burling LLP is a global law firm with offices in Beijing, Brussels, Dubai, Frankfurt, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, New York, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Seoul, Shanghai, and Washington. Since its founding in 1919, Covington has demonstrated a strong commitment to public service and has a long history of serving vulnerable clients and important causes throughout the U.S. and the world.  The firm is frequently recognized for pro bono service, including ten times being ranked the number one pro bono practice in the U.S. by The American Lawyer.