Mental patient claims injury

Man was placed in restraints often at Perkins hospital

Lawsuit seeks $20 million

Health department officials among 41 defendants named

Howard County

November 07, 2001|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

A mentally disabled patient at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup who was repeatedly placed in restraints - once for more than 300 hours straight - is suing state mental health officials and caregivers, alleging that they failed to treat the underlying causes of his brain disorder and instead resorted to illegally confining him for long periods of time.

Robert Brandt, 31, who has been at Perkins since he was accused of setting his roommate's bed on fire - while the roommate was in it - at Spring Grove Hospital in Catonsville seven years ago, names 41 defendants, including the state of Maryland, the hospital, staff members as well as the current and former secretaries of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, in his suit.

The suit was filed late last week in Howard County Circuit Court.

Brandt claims civil rights violations, cruel and unusual punishment, negligence, emotional distress and false imprisonment and asks for $20 million in damages, costs and attorneys' fees.

"He's got an organic brain problem," said his lawyer, Karl J. Protil of Rockville, who said Brandt's actions were not "intentional." "You don't make them any better by essentially punishing them or restraining them. ... In my mind, that's a return to 100 years ago."

John Hammond, a spokesman for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said he could not comment on the lawsuit, which had not been served on the department.

Although Brandt has been housed at Perkins, the state's maximum security hospital, since 1994, the suit's allegations deal mainly with late 1997 to early 1999. It was at the end of that period when, according to Protil, things got better for his client as a result of a committee's finding that Brandt's complaints were valid.

Medical records for Brandt show repeated lengthy periods during 1998 that Brandt was placed in restraints - including four-point restraints, straight jackets and wrist and ankle restraints - according to a May 1999 letter from the Maryland Disability Law Center to a committee set up to review Brandt's complaints.

The restraint periods documented ranged from six hours up to 307 hours and started for a variety of reasons, ranging from Brandt picking at his cuticles to scratching himself or arguing with a staff member, according to the letter. At times, he asked to be restrained, according to the letter.

In November 1998, he spent the equivalent of about three weeks in restraints.

Brandt was conscious and aware that he was imprisoned, according to the lawsuit.

Both the letter and the lawsuit allege that the hospital's use of restraints on Brandt, whose brain injury was caused by a lack of oxygen from an adverse reaction to anesthesia when he was 3, violated a Maryland law that allows for restraints only in emergencies or to prevent disruptions to "the therapeutic environment."

In a written decision in June 1999, a state mental health review committee ruled Brandt's complaints "valid," and recommended that Perkins stop including restraints in behavioral management plans for patients and educate its staff on the issue.

The lawsuit alleges that Brandt was placed in a state institution that could not adequately address the underlying medical problem - brain trauma - that caused him to act out and that, instead of treating the 31-year-old, the Perkins staff violated his civil rights by confining him.

Those actions caused "further psychological deterioration and injury," the lawsuit says. With proper care, the suit claims, Brandt might have been able to re-enter society.

Protil said yesterday that he would like to eventually get his client out of Perkins and into another facility.

Any money won through the lawsuit would allow Brandt to stay at the place that best met his needs, Protil said.

"The idea is not to make them worse, but to make them better and allow them to reach their full potential," Protil said.

Sun staff writer Joan Jacobson contributed to this report.

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