Former Aides Tell Of Culture Of Abuse At Psych Hospital
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
July 9 2004
WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND--Four former staff members of Porirua Mental Hospital have come forward to verify that abuse, humiliation and threats were part of the culture at the facility in the 1960s.
The four women, who were aides to the nursing staff at the time, told the New Zealand Weekend Herald that patients were routinely threatened and punished with painful procedures, such as electro-convulsive therapy, otherwise known as "shock treatment", administered without any muscle relaxants or pain medications.
"Patients were terrified," said Elisabeth Gamlen.
"People were herded naked, like animals, down corridors into huge bathrooms and roughly sluiced (washed) down."
The women's statements support complaints lodged recently by more than 200 former patients of New Zealand psychiatric institutions, alleging mistreatment by staff members and other residents. The women told the paper that they decided to speak out after learning that the credibility of the people filing those complaints might be questioned.
Most of the complaints concern incidents that allegedly occurred during the 1960s and 1970s by patients who were then between 8 and 16 years of age.
Some claim they were beaten, sexually assaulted, over-medicated, unwillingly subjected to experiments in electro-convulsive treatments, and placed in isolation for long periods of time -- sometimes for months.
The recent reports have also led government officials to reopen an investigation into the 1968 death of 11-year-old Clement Matthews. A coroner and pathologist officially reported that the boy died of pneumonia. A former roommate recently accused a nurse of murdering Matthews.
Nearly 70 legal claims have been filed so far in the High Court, each asking for as much as $500,000 in compensation and up to $50,000 in exemplary damages. Another 40 cases are close to being filed.
Until recently officials had believed the abuses were confined to Porirua and one other former institution. As more claimants came forward in the past several weeks, nearly all of the country's psychiatric hospitals had been implicated.
Most of the facilities either are closed or no longer operate as mental institutions.
"Patients lived in fear of 'The Treatment'" (New Zealand Herald)