Introduction of Legislation for National Standards to Prevent Abuse of Restraints and Seclusion

Statement of Laurie Flynn, Executive Director National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI)

Congressional News Conference March 25, 1999

Mar 25 1999

NAMI is pleased with the leadership that members of Congress are providing today with the introduction of three bills to address the need for national standards to prevent abuse of restraints and seclusion in psychiatric facilities. Each bill represents an important step forward from the status quo and a serious, thoughtful response to a national crisis.

Last year, The Hartford Courant published a special investigative series that put a spotlight on the crisis, documenting 142 deaths around the country that occurred over a decade during or shortly after restraints or seclusion were imposed on individuals being treated for psychiatric conditions. An estimate by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, commissioned by the Courant, further indicated that between 50 and 150 such deaths occur every year.

NAMI is especially proud that the presidents of two Connecticut NAMI affiliates played a critical role in helping to focus the series: Karen Hutchin of Granby and Jeanne Landry-Harpin of Woodbridge.

Since the Courant published the series in October 1998, NAMI has pressed for federal and state action to end such abuses. We also have received a steady stream of reports of new abuses and new deaths, as well as ones experienced by consumers in the past.

Every report received represents a cry of anguish. People are dying, including children. Today, NAMI is releasing a summary of reports compiled since The Hartford Courant series appeared. Five deaths have occurred over the past five months. Four of them have been of youths under the age of 18. These are only the ones we know about.

On behalf of NAMI's more than 208,000 members nationwide, I call on Congress to adopt national standards that restrict the use of seclusion and restraints to emergency situations in which physical safety is at risk. Mandatory reporting of deaths and injuries to legal authorities must be required.

This is an urgent problem. It will not go away. Deaths and human trauma will continue unless Congress acts.