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Amnesty International Reports Widespread Abuse Within Romanian Institutions
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
May 4, 2004

BUCHAREST, ROMANIA--Hundreds of Romanians are being held in deplorable conditions inside psychiatric institutions, in violation of international human rights laws, according to a report released Tuesday by Amnesty International.

The report, which comes as Romania prepares to join the European Union in 2007, calls on the government to make immediate reforms in its mental health system. It also calls on the EU to pressure Romania to guarantee full respect for the rights of its citizens with mental illness and intellectual disabilities.

In its "Memorandum to the Romanian Government Concerning Inpatient Psychiatric Treatment", the human rights organization criticized the government's "medieval" practice of institutionalizing individuals with such disabilities -- many against their will and without legal representation -- in several run-down, dirty, overcrowded, and unheated facilities.

Among other things, Amnesty officials who recently visited facilities found situations in which several residents had to share a room, and even share beds. In some instances this was the only way for them to keep warm during cold weather.

Personal hygiene was generally inadequate, Amnesty visitors discovered, with residents taking showers in poor facilities, usually once a week. Clothing, bedclothes, mattresses, even eating utensils were not kept clean. Some reports described residents going around naked or scantily clothed, and eating out of dishes that were soiled by other residents.

The surveyors found that institution officials had made little or no attempt to separate those with criminal histories from the general population, thereby mixing perpetrators with victims, in settings with minimal supervision. Last year, four residents died following assaults by other residents.

Eighteen patients in one facility died during January and February of this year, reportedly from malnutrition and hypothermia. Amnesty officials said they believed these deaths were "not the exception in the Romanian mental health care system".

"Restraint and seclusion practices in many psychiatric wards and hospitals were not in line with international standards and in some instances amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment," the report's authors wrote. "There were no protocols for, nor records kept, regarding the use of restraint and seclusion. Seclusion was frequently enforced as a punishment."

Medications to treat mental illnesses were not given to patients as required. In some cases, medication was handed to one patient to dispense to another. Many patients who did receive medications had no idea what they were taking, the report said.

In addition, some residents had no mental or medical diagnosis that would warrant being held in these facilities. Some had simply been moved to the institutions after being abandoned in orphanages, with no treatment or discharge plans. Several had been labeled "oligophrenic", an out-dated, catch-all phrase similar to "feeble-minded". Some would likely do well in the community, if the government were to provide supports for them, the report noted.

Amnesty International concluded its report with a list of at least 20 recommendations regarding placement in psychiatric wards and hospitals; living conditions, therapies and treatment; restraint and seclusion practices; and deaths within the facilities.

First and foremost, the organization recommended that the Romanian government establish community-based supports for people now housed in these facilities.

"Romania Memorandum to the government concerning inpatient psychiatric treatment" (Amnesty International)


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