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Dying In Isolation

Posted Oct 07 2008 7:15pm

News media sources in the Netherlands have provided a disturbing look at a practice that has become increasingly common in Dutch psychiatric facilities: the use of "isolation cells" to warehouse problem patients. An estimated 18,000 psychiatric patients are believed to be placed in isolation cells each year where they are kept segregated from other patients, often for months at a time. While legislation prevents patients from being kept in isolation if they are judged to pose an active danger to themselves or others, isolation cells are increasingly being used to house patients as punishment or even due to lack of staff.

In August of this year, the Dutch Health Inspectorate released a report criticizing an Amsterdam psychiatric clinic for its inadequate care and staffing shortage. In September, a 47-year old schizophrenic patient in isolation "choked to death on a piece of bread". A second patient committed suicide. Health care ombudsmen are reporting isolation-related deaths at other facilities that have not been mentioned in the media.

While the use of segregation remains a common practice in dealing with mentally ill inmates in jails and prisons, the use of isolation cells in psychiatric facilities represents a disturbing new trend. Dutch legislators are calling for minimum standards for isolation cells as well as closed-circuit cameras and regular inspections.

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