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Montana State Hospital Accused of Violating a Patient’s Rights

— June 5, 2019

Montana State Hospital recently agreed to settle a lawsuit alleging its staff violated a patient’s rights.

A lawsuit against the Montana State Hospital recently settled and was originally filed over allegations it violated a patient’s rights. According to evidence obtained from a surveillance video, plaintiff Ryan Bragg was a patient at Montana State Hospital in 2016 when he “broke a fire sprinkler in his room at the hospital.” Shortly after, a nurse “ordered a restraint blanket and gurney for Bragg” because she said there were “dangerous chemicals in the water spraying from the broken sprinkler in his room,” according to the suit.

Image of a hospital room
Hospital Room; image courtesy of Martha Dominguez via Unsplash,

Siding with Bragg in the suit is Disability Rights Montana, a federal organization that oversees the Montana State Hospital and represents the disabled in court cases. According to the organization, the surveillance video shows the sprinkler going off, and then hospital staff members quickly removing Bragg’s clothes. When commenting on the incident, Bragg said:

“They pretty much tackled me to the floor. It made me feel extremely uncomfortable and unsafe because it made me feel like they didn’t exactly care, especially since when they extracted me they said they’d let me walk. Anyone who works in a facility like this knows they can’t have flame retardant in the sprinklers where there are people, because it’s toxic to people. So she pretty much used that as an excuse to be able to cut my clothes off me, and it was completely inhumane.”

Bragg was and still is one of the hundreds of patients that visit the Montana State Hospital each year for mental health treatment. While it’s estimated that about 20% of patients admitted to the hospital are convicted or suspected criminals, “the majority of patients have never been convicted of a crime.” Bragg was admitted to the hospital shortly after a “judge found him guilty of theft and burglary in 2016.” From there, he was diagnosed with a handful of mental disorders.

How has the hospital responded to the lawsuit, though? For starters, the hospital denied many of the accusations and Zoe Barnard, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services addictive and mental disorders administrator explained the hospital’s dedication to patient safety. She said:

“We take the security and the safety of both the staff and patients very seriously. Patients don’t need to come to Montana State Hospital unless their needs are very acute.”

Barnard also touched on Bragg’s case and said it settled for around $2,000 “because it was a better way to spend taxpayer money than to continue to go through the process.” She added, “we felt that the concerns likely would have eventually been dismissed.”

When commenting on Bragg’s experience, Disability Rights Montana executive director Bernadette Franks-Ongoy said, “his seclusion and restraint was really something you would see out of a movie.” She added that, despite the settlement, they plan to re-file soon. “We weren’t looking for money, in terms of monetary damages, we were looking for systemic reform. People will often dismiss the claims of a person with a mental illness and treat them as though their claim is either exaggerated or not believed.”


Lawsuit says state hospital violated patient rights


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