Tag Archive for: Disability Law Center

Here’s what could change for the embattled Bridgewater State Hospital (MassLive)

Below is an excerpt from an article published by MassLive on March 20 discussing the impact of a recently released report by the Disability Law Center on Bridgewater State Hospital.


Last week, a watchdog group released a damning report about the Massachusetts Department of Corrections’ Bridgewater State Hospital — a psychiatric hospital for men who have been accused or convicted of a crime. Major changes could be in store for the hospital in coming months.

The 46-page report from Disability Law Center — a Boston-based disability advocacy nonprofit — alleges a litany of eye-popping patient abuses at the hospital, including involuntary restraint through medication, physical violence from staff, seclusion for all but a handful of hours and negligent medical care.

Patient stories in the report made Bridgewater State Hospital sound like the psychiatric hospitals of a previous era that are now most often featured in horror media. The nonprofit detailed accounts of patients being dragged to a bed to be forcibly injected with a restraint drug, left alone and naked in their room for weeks and wasting away with little to no medical or mental health care in a dangerously moldy and decrepit building.

Read more at MassLive.

Mistreatment persists at Bridgewater State Hospital, report says (WBUR)

Below is the text of a March 13, 2024 article from WBUR about a recent report by the Disability Law Center detailing mistreatment of patients at Bridgewater State Hospital.


By Deborah Becker

There are continuing problems at the Massachusetts Department of Correction mental health hospital, according to a new report from the agency that monitors the facility for the state.

The report, from the Disability Law Center, found patients at Bridgewater State Hospital were subjected to illegally forced medication injections, violence from staff, lack of medical care, inappropriate medication for opioid use disorder and mold contamination. The report recommends that the state transfer control of Bridgewater State Hospital from the Department of Correction to the Department of Mental Health.

“Massachusetts must cease involuntarily committing people with complex mental health needs and disabilities to a state prison facility where they will foreseeably face countertherapeutic conditions and suffer violations of their legal rights by those meant to provide them treatment,” the report’s authors urged.

Bridgewater State Hospital houses more than 200 male prisoners and other people with serious mental illnesses who are charged with crimes.

Department of Correction officials said they have taken steps to address some of the concerns raised in the report, such using daily video reviews of instances of physical restraint, and hiring Dr. Debra Pinals, a former Department of Mental Health official, to review the hospital’s practices and policies.

“The DOC has enhanced staff training and increased independent oversight by behavioral and mental health experts who have reviewed policies to ensure alignment with Department of Mental Health policies and regulation,” correction officials said in a statement responding to the report.

The report reviewed Bridgewater State Hospital over six months, from June 2023-December 2023. The Disability Law Center has been monitoring the facility for a decade and said although some improvements have been made, there are ongoing problems with the care provided to patients and the condition of the buildings.

“The treatment and conditions at Bridgewater State Hospital are simply not acceptable, and they don’t meet the needs of the Bridgewater State Hospital population,” said Tatum Pritchard, director of litigation for the Disability Law Center.

Among the issues outlined in the report is the use of security staff from Wellpath, the Department of Correction’s health care provider, to forcibly inject patients with medications. Disability Law Center investigators talked with patients and reviewed video footage and policies on forced medications. They found Wellpath staff in riot gear were utilized to subdue patients, and that “involuntary medication and prison practices merge to produce violent, often dehumanizing, experiences” for patients.

“DOC and Wellpath must cease, as a rule, using teams of security staff in riot gear to
implement by force involuntary medication orders, including medication restraint,” the report’s authors wrote. “To the extent such a practice would ever be acceptable, it must be reserved for exceptional circumstances.”

The investigators also cited instances where patients were not provided medical care they needed and were not given appropriate medication for opioid use disorder. The Disability Law Center asked Dr. Evan Gale, associate medical director of the Addiction Consult Team at Massachusetts General Hospital and its director of inpatient training for the Addiction Medicine Fellowship, to review Wellpath’s practices regarding addiction medications.

According to the report, Gale’s review found the hospital’s care for those with opioid use disorder raised “significant concerns.”

“Dr. Gale found BSH providers conflate mental health symptoms with withdrawal symptoms and, based on the stigma of both and lack of management of medication options, provide substandard care,” the report said.

Additionally, the investigators reported that the Department of Correction has not followed previous recommendations from the Disability Law Center about mold control and remediation, making the facilities unhealthy for patients and staff.

“These inactions have caused the mold problems to become worse in certain areas observed and potentially more harmful,” the report said.

The report has been sent to lawmakers for review. It comes as the legislature considers a bill to transfer oversight of Bridgewater State Hospital to the Department of Mental Health. Wellpath’s contracts to provide medical services in all state prisons and at Bridgewater State Hospital expire in June.

Read this article on WBUR.org

This story was also covered by Hoodline, Boston.com, the Boston Globe, Boston 25 News, and WCVB News Center 5.

Bear Mountain nursing home report alleges neglect, overmedication (Boston Globe)

Below is an excerpt from an article published on January 31 by The Boston Globe detailing a report release by Disability Law Center, covering the harmful practices of the neurobehavioral unit at the Bear Mountain nursing home in Worcester. Nina Loewenstein, senior attorney for the Disability Law Center, is quoted. 


A nursing home can be a supportive environment for elderly residents to live out their last years with companionship and medical care. It can alternatively be a place where vulnerable people with severe physical and mental health needs are warehoused and neglected.

report released Wednesday by the Disability Law Center examining a neurobehavioral unit at Bear Mountain nursing home in Worcester illuminates in stark terms what allegedly happens when people with schizophrenia, dementia, and other ailments are left alone, with few programs and inadequate staffing. The Disability Law Center writes, speaking broadly about nursing home patients, “They become vulnerable to abuse and neglect because of inadequate staffing and clinical expertise, excessive use of medication, substandard conditions, and prolonged isolation.”

The report, while difficult to read, cries out for a response — from Bear Mountain and the state. Lawmakers and state administrators have responded to nursing homes’ financial needs by increasing reimbursement rates. But as the report points out, rates need to be paired with oversight to ensure the money is going to provide at least a minimal standard of care.

Read the article here.

Supervising Attorney – DLC

Who We Are: The Disability Law Center (DLC) is a statewide, nonprofit legal organization and Massachusetts’ Protection and Advocacy agency for people with disabilities. DLC is committed to protecting the civil and human rights of all persons with disabilities through zealous advocacy and representation. Our work is firmly rooted in the belief that everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. DLC’s guiding principles are to promote and protect inclusion, independence, integration, and equal opportunity.

Diversity, Inclusion, and Equal Opportunity Mission Statement: DLC is dedicated to protecting and promoting the fundamental human rights of our clients in appreciation of their diverse circumstances and to approaching our work through an intersectional lens. To do this effectively, we must foster diversity at all levels of the agency and maintain an inclusive environment that supports success and the well-being of staff. DLC is an Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action Employer by choice. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to disability, race, color, religion, national origin or ancestry, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, genetic information, military service, veteran status, age, citizenship, marital status, status as a parent/guardian, or any other characteristic protected by law.

Position: Supervising Attorney

Hours: 0.75-1.0 FTE; full-time schedule is 35 hours per week

Reports To: Director of Litigation OR Director of Advocacy

Location: Hybrid – combination of remote and in-office in Boston or Northampton

Summary: The Supervising Attorney will serve as a middle manager, supervising Senior and Staff Attorneys. The Supervising Attorney will oversee the day-to-day activities of their team and will ensure the provision of high-quality legal and advocacy services to DLC clients. The Supervising Attorney will have the opportunity to contribute to the strategic growth of the organization.

Essential Functions:

  • Directly supervise Senior and Staff Attorneys and Advocates in their day-to-day work, which shall include the following:
    • Through regular supervision, provide guidance, training, and support to supervisees to improve their advocacy skills and case outcomes.
    • Regularly encourage staff to identify systemic barriers faced by clients and client communities and seek innovative ways to address the identified barriers; and
    • Evaluate work of supervisees to ensure adherence to the highest professional standards and effective use of time, conduct case reviews, review caseloads.
  • Maintain an individual caseload consistent with program priorities.
  • Analyze case law, statutes, regulations, agency policies, and proposed legislation.
  • Participate in evaluating service requests and assigning cases with the Director of Litigation, Director of Advocacy, and Supervising Attorneys.
  • Collaborate with the Director of Litigation, Director of Advocacy, and Supervising Attorneys in developing systemic activities as appropriate, including impact litigation.
  • As part of DLC’s full management team, participate in: team meetings; development and implementation of DLC policies and procedures; grant reporting and compliance activities; leading change and promoting a positive team attitude.
  • Participate in the orientation and training of newly hired or less experienced staff.
  • Cultivate and maintain relationships with subject area professionals and advocates, including state officials and agency staff, providers, and advocacy organizations.
  • Attend in-person meetings and visits with DLC colleagues, clients, opposing parties, government officials, and others that may require travel throughout Massachusetts.
  • Perform other related duties assigned by the Executive Director or supervising Director.
  • In accordance with DLC policies and procedures, maintain: the security of confidential information and records; complete and accurate records documenting advocacy, monitoring, and investigation activities and time spent.

Qualifications:

  • Juris Doctorate and ability to practice law in Massachusetts (current MA bar admission or immediate ability to be admitted to bar required).
  • At least 7 years of experience as a practicing attorney.
  • Demonstrated commitment to protecting and promoting the rights of people with disabilities, people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and/or people with low-income.
  • Experience with advocacy in a variety of forums including federal, state, and appellate courts, administrative agencies, and/or legislative bodies.
  • Ability to analyze facts and pertinent legal authority and develop creative solutions.
  • Ability to produce high quality legal writing.
  • Ability to work efficiently, independently, and collaboratively.
  • Experience supervising attorneys or advocates, or in legal project management.
  • Ability to give and receive constructive feedback.
  • Demonstrated ability to work and communicate effectively with people from diverse cultures, with diverse opinions and values.
  • Commitment to fostering inclusivity and equity as well as humility when working with clients, colleagues, and in supervising staff at the intersection of multiple identities.
  • Professionalism and sound ethical judgment.
  • Ability to travel throughout the Commonwealth.

Desired Attributes:

  • Experience working for a Protection and Advocacy agency.
  • Ability to communicate effectively in a language other than English: ASL, Spanish, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, Mandarin, or another non-English language.

Compensation:

FTE salary range starting at $105,000. DLC provides a generous benefits package, generous vacation, retirement benefits and dental insurance.

To Apply:

Interested applicants for this position must submit a cover letter and resume through DLC’s website: https://www.dlc-ma.org/supervising-attorney/. Applications received by February 11, 2024 will be prioritized for consideration, then will be accepted on a rolling basis until the position is filled.

If you require a reasonable accommodation for completing this application, interviewing, or otherwise participating in our employee selection process, please contact Amanda Gasparonis via email at agasparonis@dlc-ma.org.

Disclaimer: The position description is not intended to be an exhaustive list of all functions or inclusive of all job responsibilities that may arise. The Employer retains the right to change or assign other duties to this position.

Staff Attorney – DLC

Position: Staff Attorney 

Reports To: Supervising Attorney 

Location: Hybrid – combination of remote and in-office in Boston or Northampton DLC offices.  

Summary: The staff attorney will advocate for the rights and interests of individuals with disabilities. The attorney will provide representation in civil rights cases; investigate allegations of abuse and neglect; conduct monitoring of community residences and other facilities; and engage in advocacy to address human rights, discharge planning, community integration issues.

Essential Functions: 

DLC Staff Attorneys perform a wide range of duties, including the following: 

  •  Represent clients consistent with DLC’s case selection criteria; develop and implement case strategies; engage in litigation and negotiation in consultation with the Director of Litigation and/or the Director of Advocacy.
  • Conduct in-person monitoring, and investigative activities in facilities and community settings, including psychiatric hospitals and other group living environments; conduct factual investigations into allegations of abuse and neglect of people with disabilities; develop and execute workplans to address incidents of abuse and neglect.
  • Attend in-person meetings with colleagues, clients, opposing parties, government officials and others.
  • Provide information and self-advocacy assistance to DLC clients and conduct training and outreach activities in the community.
  • Analyze statutes, regulations, agency policies/procedures and proposed legislation.
  • Gather information from individuals with disabilities, family members and stakeholder groups to assist with policy analysis.
  • Cultivate and maintain relationships with subject area professionals and advocates, including state officials and agency staff, providers, and advocacy organizations.
  • Collaborate with Senior Attorneys, Supervising Attorneys, the Director of Advocacy, and the Director of Litigation in the development of systemic activities as appropriate, including impact litigation.
  • In accordance with DLC policies and procedures, maintain: the security of confidential information and records; complete and accurate records documenting advocacy, monitoring, and investigation activities and time spent.
  • Be available to travel throughout Massachusetts to perform assigned job tasks.
  • Perform related tasks, consistent skills, and general responsibilities as required to support DLC’s mission, as assigned.

Qualifications: 

  • Juris Doctorate and ability to practice law in Massachusetts (current MA bar admission or immediate ability to be admitted to MA bar required).
  • Practical legal experience, such as client counseling, appearances in court and administrative proceedings, legislative advocacy, and administrative advocacy.
  • Demonstrated commitment to protecting and promoting the rights of people with disabilities, people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and/or people with low-income.
  • Professionalism and sound ethical judgment.
  • Ability to work with diverse groups of individuals.
  • Ability to analyze facts and pertinent legal authority and develop creative solutions.
  • Ability to produce high quality legal writing.
  • Ability to work efficiently, independently, and collaboratively.
  • Ability to travel throughout the Commonwealth.

Desired Attributes: 

  • Ability to communicate effectively in a language other than English: ASL, Spanish, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, Mandarin, or another non-English language.
  • 2 to 5 years of legal practice experience.

Compensation:  

Salary is determined by a collectively bargained salary scale based upon years of experience. On the scale, the salary of an attorney with 2-3 years of experience is $70,500. DLC provides a generous benefits package, including a 35-hour work week, generous vacation, retirement benefits and dental insurance.

To Apply:  

Interested applicants for this position must submit a cover letter and a resume through a form, located here: Staff Attorney (November 2023) – Disability Law Center (dlc-ma.org). Applications received by December 22, 2023 will be prioritized for consideration, then will be accepted on a rolling basis until the position is filled. 

If you require a reasonable accommodation for completing this application, interviewing, or otherwise participating in our employee selection process, please contact Amanda Gasparonis via email at agasparonis@dlc-ma.org 

Disclaimer: The position description is not intended to be an exhaustive list of all functions or inclusive of all job responsibilities that may arise. The Employer retains the right to change or assign other duties to this position.

Restraining a patient is supposed to be a ‘last resort.’ Why is Massachusetts doing it so often? (GBH)

Below is an excerpt from an article published on October 2 by GBH discussing the implications of the use of restraint at inpatient facilities. Disability Law Center’s Staff Attorney Walter Noons is quoted.


Jess Thompson, 27, of Abington views her life in two parts; before she was restrained, and after.

Thompson had been sent to South Shore Hospital by ambulance in September 2020 after staff at an outpatient clinic feared she might be suicidal. Thompson says she was seeking treatment for PTSD, but was not considering suicide in any way.

Moments before the restraint, she’d been told she was on a 72-hour hold. Thompson told the staff she would like to leave.

“I started to walk up to the door and I am bear-hugged by this security guard. I had my arms crossed sort of in front of my chest and I’m trying to free my arms and they had thrown me to the ground. My lip hit the dirty hospital floor and instantly busts,” Thompson told GBH News.

Thompson said more than half a dozen staffers, most of them male, put her on a stretcher in the middle of the hallway where she screamed, begging them to let her go.

Read more at GBH.

Thousands with complicated disabilities languish as Massachusetts struggles with staff shortages at care programs (Boston Globe)

Below is an excerpt from an August 8 article published by the Boston Globe describing the impact of shortages in day care for people with disabilities who have complex medical or behavioral needs. Disability Law Center’s (DLC) Senior Attorney Hillary Stanisz is quoted.


BARNSTABLE — Most days, hour after hour, Tyler Bourne hunches in a blue easy chair in his mother’s living room, watching the reality TV show “Wicked Tuna,” or crinkling up free magazines from Stop and Shop.

He overheats easily, so this time of year, the 37-year-old won’t leave the house for days, sometimes more than a week at a time.

His life wasn’t always so stagnant. Bourne, who was born with a rare chromosomal disorder that caused profound developmental disabilities, attended for about 12 years a day habilitation program, or day hab, in Mashpee five days a week, six hours a day. But over the past three years, he has been allowed back only rarely.

Bourne is among roughly 2,000 individuals, most of them people with complex medical or behavioral needs, who have been effectively exiled from day hab since the pandemic, placed on waiting lists for a service that is much more than just day care. The programs also provide skilled nursing, physical therapy, speech therapy, group outings, and opportunities to socialize. But they are currently so understaffed, according to state officials and providers, that some are finding it difficult to provide one-to-one care for everyone who needs it.

Read more at the Boston Globe

Blind and low-vision voters hail Massachusetts’ new statewide online voting option (GBH News)

This year, Massachusetts became the fourth state in the nation to enact a new electronic voting system for people with disabilities, as a provision of the VOTES Act passed in June. This milestone stems from a 2020 lawsuit filed by the Disability Law Center, as reported by GBH News in an Oct. 28 article.

An excerpt from the article is below.

In 2020, the Disability Law Center partnered with the Bay State Council of the Blind and the Boston Center for Independent Living to sue the state over lack of accommodations made for disabled people to vote safely and securely during the pandemic. Secretary of State Bill Galvin settled the lawsuit right before the election to allow disabled voters to vote electronically.

But during the 2020 election, voters with disabilities who chose the electronic method still needed a printer and had to physically sign the ballot. Advocates pushed for the option to last beyond that single year and worked with the secretary of state’s office to make it even more accessible.

Read more from GBH News.

SJC to referee another medical parole dispute (CommonWealth Magazine)

CommonWealth Magazine on Sept. 9 reported on an amicus brief filed by Prisoners’ Legal Services, the Disability Law Center, and the Committee for Public Counsel Services. Since the legislature established medical parole in 2018, prisoners’ rights advocates and Department of Correction officials have been in a near-constant fight about how the law is being implemented.

Tatum Pritchard, an attorney with the DLC, which filed a brief in the case, said the Legislature made clear that someone who is permanently incapacitated – physically or cognitively – should be eligible for parole, but the DOC inappropriately created a much narrower definition by focusing on activities of daily living. Pritchard said under the DOC’s definition, medical parole is reserved only for individuals who “really have no functional abilities at all.” 

The court could also address other related issues. DLC, PLS, and CPCS argued in their court brief that correction officials need to consider whether someone’s disability led to certain behavior in jail, like being disruptive, and whether that disability could be managed in the community. 

Read more in CommonWealth Magazine and in The Boston Globe.

Report: Restraints and involuntary medication widespread at corrections facility for people with mental illness

A new report by the Disability Law Center suggests staff physically restrained and involuntarily medicated over half of their patients at the Department of Correction’s Bridgewater State Hospital over six months.

The report focused on the facility that houses over 200 men suffering from mental illness, and alleged staff used force to inject sedatives into unwilling patients. The group recounted some of 15 incidents, documented by video, where staff in riot gear held down patients as they were injected with medications, often despite their protests and without an indication that there was an emergency.

“The pattern and practice of violent staff interventions would not be accepted in a DMH [Department of Mental Health]-licensed psychiatric hospital,” wrote authors from the center, which is charged by state courts with monitoring whether reforms are happening at Bridgewater.

Read more at GBH News. Additional coverage in WBUR and CommonWealth Magazine.