HELENA, Mont. — There’s good reason for two Montana State Hospital patients to be held in long-term isolation, two psychiatrists testified Monday.
Dr. Liviu Goia testified during a hearing in which the patients, represented by Disability Rights Montana, sought a court order to return them to the general population while their lawsuit against the state health department and several state hospital employees moves forward.
Bridgitt Erickson, an attorney for DRM, argued that numerous professional organizations have said that placing patients in long-term isolation is archaic and detrimental to their mental health. A lawsuit filed against the last month argued isolating the patients has worsened their conditions and caused them psychological and emotional harm. They are seeking a jury trial and damages.
Montana State law says patients have the right to be free from physical restraint and isolation, except for in emergency situations in which it is likely the patient could harm themselves or others. Erickson argued the long-term situation is not an emergency.
Curt Drake, who is representing the state hospital and several employees, argued that under state law patients can be held in isolation if the decision is based on a physician’s professional judgment with a written order that explains the action.
Orders to hold patients in isolation must be reviewed every 24 hours, under state law.
Goia testified that the male patient in this case has schizophrenia that is resistant to anti-psychotic medications, has delusional thoughts and is impulsively violent. He had tried to kill people and himself, Goia said, and easily becomes overwhelmed and lashes out.
Doctors have been unable to find a combination of mediations to help the female patient, who has a disorganized thought process, is “unable to formulate anything coherent for more than a few seconds,” Goia said. She exhibits other highly inappropriate behavior and can be impulsively violent.
Drake elicited testimony from both Goia and Dr. Joseph Frechen that they used their professional judgment in extending isolation orders for both patients.
“I haven’t seen seclusion used to this extent before,” Frechen said, but added that he hadn’t had a patient like the male patient before.
The hearing before District Judge Kathy Seeley is scheduled to continue on Tuesday.
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Dr. Joseph Frechen’s name.