In Georgia’s state mental hospitals, even the most egregious cases involving employees – patient deaths, assaults, beatings – usually result in penalties no harsher than firing, and sometimes no punishment, says the Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows. Hospital administrators investigate the most serious incidents on their grounds and pass judgment afterward. They decide whether to call in police, whether to notify prosecutors, and whether to punish employees who harm the patients in their care.
The way the hospitals handle cases of abuse and neglect illustrates lack of public accountability in a system that has had at least 115 suspicious deaths of patients and more than 190 substantiated assaults since 2002. Advocates for people with mental illness suggest that independent police and prosecutors are better arbiters than hospital administrators in cases involving violent deaths or assaults. “Otherwise, the message is that these people are subhumans, and are not worthy of the protections of the rest of society,” said Ron Honberg of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.