Policy change follows threat of lawsuit from ACLU of VirginiaHampton, VA —Following the threat of a lawsuit from the ACLU of Virginia last week, the Hampton Veterans Affairs Medical Center has announced that, beginning today, it will allow patients held in its psychiatric ward to have visitors.
The VA hospital eliminated visits with patients several years ago, but the policy did not come to light until recently when the wife of a man who died on the unit complained that she had not been able to visit her husband. In the wake of these revelations the ACLU of Virginia publicly criticized the hospital, then sent a letter to hospital administrators pointing out that the blanket no-visitor policy violated federal regulations and the constitutional rights of patients.
The letter from the ACLU also stated that the civil liberties organization was preparing for a possible lawsuit, although it hoped to avoid going to court.
Pressure on the hospital mounted late last week when Third District Congressman Bobby Scott toured the facility and Senator Jim Webb called for an investigation into the hospital’s policy.
“This is why we must constantly watch the government,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “It’s mind boggling when you think about it. Ignoring their own regulations, the accepted practices of the medical community, and the basic needs of the people they exist to serve, a handful of government officials decided that the hospital could be run more efficiently by eliminating visits with psychiatric patients.”
“Using this logic, one wonders if somewhere along the line they might have decided to eliminate the patients altogether,” added Willis.
Thus far the hospital has only announced that visiting hours will be re-established, but has not released any details concerning the new visitation policy. Once the details of the new policy are in place, the ACLU will review them to make certain that they comply with federal regulations and Supreme Court decisions on patients’ rights.
In the letter sent to the hospital last week, the ACLU wrote that the blanket prohibition on visitors for all psychiatric inpatients violates both the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ regulations, as well as U.S. Supreme Court decisions holding that patients in public mental health facilities are entitled to appropriate care as determined by the professional judgment of the medical community. A ban on visitors appears to strongly contradict appropriate medical procedures.
A copy of the ACLU’s letter is available at http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/20070416-HamptonVAMC_ltr.pdf
Contact: Kent Willis (w) 804/644-8022