Psych Crime Reporter

May 7, 2013

Report criticizes Massachusetts school that uses shock “therapy”

Six years after two teenage students at a special-needs school were punished with dozens of electrical shocks in a three-hour period, an independent report evaluating safety at the school is calling for better training of staff and the hiring of an ombudsman to field complaints.

In addition to offering graphic detail of the abuse suffered by the two teens, the 128-page report, released Monday by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office, also found that the controversial Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Canton was not doing enough to teach staff about the behaviors that warranted electric shocks to students.

“There appears to be very little, if anything, contained in the Basic Training related to the types of behaviors typically addressed by the GED (Graduated Electronic Decelerator) and why these behaviors are appropriate for treatment with the GED,” the report written by retired Judge Isaac Borenstein stated.

The residential school and treatment program for disabled people with severe emotional problems is believed to be the only school in the country that uses electric-shock therapy to modify behavior.

It is called aversive therapy, and many students at the center continue to wear the electronic shock device in backpacks with wires connected to straps around an arm or leg. The device can deliver a two-second, surface-level shock meant to control behaviors related to serious mental disorders such as self-mutilation and aggression.

“The board of directors has already voted to accept all the recommendations and has implemented them,” said Michael Flammia, a Boston attorney who represents the Rotenberg school, said in commenting on the report.

Flammia said that about 80 students are currently approved to receive the electric shock treatments.

The evaluation from Borenstein was made public as a result of a plea deal two years ago after a special grand jury indicted the school’s founder, Dr. Matthew Israel, on charges that he misled a witness and destroyed a videotape related to the 2007 abuse of the two students.

In August 2007, a former student placed a prank call to a Rotenberg group home in Stoughton and coaxed workers into administering more than 100 shocks to the teens. One victim was from Halifax.

Israel agreed in Norfolk Superior Court to five years of probation and to step down as director of the school. Part of the deal was Borenstein’s year-long probe of practices at the school, which laid bare what the attorney general’s office called “flawed JRC policies and procedures.”

Sources: Chris Burrell, “Report criticizes Canton school that uses shock therapy,” The Patriot Ledger, May 07, 2013.

January 11, 2013

Worker at child psych center, 24, arrested for sex with patient, 13

Jackson police arrested a Madison Oaks Academy staff member early Thursday morning after another worker at the facility reported that the man was caught having sex with an underage female resident there.

Madison Oaks Academy, located at 49 Old Hickory Blvd, is a 73-bed residential psychiatric treatment facility for children between the ages of 10 and 18 “with emotional and behavioral disorders,” according to the facility’s website.

Officers received a call from the facility around 1 a.m Thursday. An employee at the academy reported to police that staff member Larry McIntosh, 24, had just been caught having sex with a 13-year-old resident, according to a news release from the Jackson Police Department.

The release said investigators concluded that a staff member was making early-morning rounds when the worker saw McIntosh engaged in the act.

“The staff member, who witnessed the incident, immediately alerted his superiors, who then notified police,” the release said. “McIntosh, 24, was arrested at the facility and booked into the Madison County Jail at 2:40 a.m.”

The Department of Children’s Services is assisting in the investigation, police said.

Police reported that Madison Oaks Academy suspended McIntosh pending the outcome of the investigation.

When The Jackson Sun contacted the facility Thursday afternoon to inquire about McIntosh’s position and employment history at the facility, a worker who answered the phone said Madison Oaks Academy has declined to speak on the matter at this time.

The academy’s website said the facility is “specifically designed for children and adolescents.”

“Our staff specializes in the treatment of children and adolescents with disorders such as ADHD, PTSD, depression, anxiety disorders, oppositional defiant disorder and other behavioral and mood disorders,” the facility’s homepage said Thursday. “A highly structured behavioral management program, with a level system, is implemented to assist residents in gauging their progress. It also assists residents in learning to accept responsibility for their own behaviors, both positive and negative.”

The facility is part of the Woodridge Behavioral Care centers also located in Arkansas and Missouri.

McIntosh is scheduled to be arraigned at 8 a.m. today in Jackson City Court on charges of aggravated statutory rape and statutory rape by an authority figure.

Source: Jordan Buie, “Madison Oaks Academy staffer faces sex charges; Employee reported seeing co-worker with 13-year-old,” Jackson Sun, January 10, 2013.

October 24, 2012

New Jersey psych hospital worker sentenced for sex with patient

EWING, NJ— A former employee of Trenton Psychiatric Hospital was sentenced to two years of probation today in Superior Court for having criminal sexual contact with a patient at the hospital in 2009.

Marcus Walton, 31, of Trenton, pleaded guilty to the charge in August, admitting to having sex with the patient. Prosecutors have said the sex was consensual.

Walton voluntarily left his job at the hospital and will be barred from working in a similar facility, Judge Mark Fleming said. Walton’s sentence requires him to serve 40 hours of community service, undergo a mental evaluation for sex offenders and complete any recommended treatment. He is also barred from having any contact with the victim.

Source: Jenna Pizzi, “Former Trenton Psychiatric Hospital employee is sentenced to probation for sex with patient,” Times of Trenton,  October 23, 2012.

October 8, 2012

Director of Armenian psych hospital reportedly forcing patients to herd, graze animals as “work therapy”

It appears that the director of the Vardenis Psychiatric Hospital is forcing patients to work as animal herders.

Director Nver Hovhannisyan took a group of patients up to the Nerkin Shorzha village and told them to start grazing the sheep and cows. The patients must also milk the animals, some of which belong to the hospital, but others belong to Hovhannisyan and his friends.

We apologize to the relatives of the patients for publishing their names and the disorders they suffer from.

When we reached the village by car, we got out and started to climb to the nearby mountain on foot where we spotted the grazing animals.

The first person we met was Hounan, who was tending a flock of sheep. We had a tough time conversing with the man. He could only get out one intelligible sentence. After that, it was a mish-mash of unrelated sentences.

Hounan Navoyan told us he was 45, from the Gegharkounik village of Astghadzor, and suffered from schizophrenic.

Further down, Moushegh Bazoyan was grazing cows. He’s an epileptic.

We know most of the patients by name since we’ve been dealing with the issues of the Vardenis Hospital starting in 1997. Moushegh is one of our old acquaintances. After a welcoming hug, Moushegh told us how he wound up at the hospital.

The man pleaded with us to talk with hospital management to get him transferred back to the institution rather than working high up in the mountains. He told us that employees even beat the patients.

“Those guys hit me and broke all my teeth,” said 49 year-old Moushegh from the town of Hoktemberyan. He told us his relatives have no idea that he’s now grazing animals in Nerkin Shorzha.

The patients told us that they are given nothing to eat for lunch.

Stepan, the third patient we met, was working in the barn. He’s schizophrenic as well.

We were told that a fourth patient, Tereza Minasyan, was recently transferred back to the hospital. She had been milking cows in the village but fell sick. Tereza now must undergo an operation for an inflamed large intestine. The hospital says it will foot the bill but the woman is still waiting.

It’s cold up in the mountains and the work is hard. The patients live in squalid conditions.

While it’s true that work therapy is an accepted form of rehabilitation, practiced by the Vardenis Hospital in the past, it was only for an hour or two a day and under a physician’s supervision.

The Vardenis institution is the final stop for all those deemed to be untreatable. Other hospitals send problem patients to Vardenis. The patients here are heavily medicated and looked after.

Those working in Nerkin Shorzha aren’t provided any medical supervision. The director’s friends are the only outsiders monitoring the patients. You can bet these people are more interested in the work, and not the health, of the patients.

Recently, the RA Control Chamber had sent a team to inspect the Vardenis Hospital. Before the team called for a roll-call of the patients, management had brought those working in the village back to the ward. When the inspectors left, the patients were sent back to the village.

The Vardenis Hospital is run by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, The ministry also carries out periodic inspections. During such inspections, hospital staff often fill in for those patients working in the village.

We contacted the ministry, wanting to find out if its inspectors had uncovered any violations. Hasmik Khachatryan, who runs the Public Relations Unit, told us that the ministry was still compiling data from the last inspection and that their findings weren’t ready for publication. The minister was away from his desk and would be back by the week’s end.

Director Nver Hovhannisyan denied that any patients were working in Nerkin Shorzha grazing livestock. He told us that even though he was new to the job, everything was above board and normal.

We told him tat we had visited the village and saw several patients there. We asked if it was a form of therapy. He answered that it was, but that they are only sent to get a change of scenery and walk in the fresh air.

– You send them to Shorzha for walks?

– We send them all over. Not just to Shorzha. It’s medical therapy.

– We also saw the patients grazing your animals.

– Give me a break, already.

– Does the hospital have animals in Nerkin Shorzha?

– No.

– Do you own animals there?

– No.

– So what were your patients doing there?

– They weren’t our patients. Who gave you that info?

– Moushegh Bazoyan, Hounan Navoyan, Stepan and Tereza aren’t your patients?

– They’re all at the hospital now. They never were there on their own.

– But they are your patients?

– I can’t say at this moment. I don’t remember the names.

– What’s Tereza’s medical condition?

– Very good. It’s always been good.

Many in the neighboring villages know that patients from the psychiatric hospital are tending animals in Nerkin Shorzha. Even kids from the nearby village of Ayrk will tell you.

No one, however, seems overly concerned that some patients are forced to work for their room and board, or that hospital management are conveniently stretching the concept of “work therapy” for personal gain.

Source: Kristine Aghalaryan, Edik Baghdasaryan, Marine Madatyan, Saro Baghdasaryan,”Director Forces Vardenis Psychaitric Patients to Graze His Private Livestock,” Hetq, September 18, 2012.

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