Restraints hearing delayed, families still want answers

Debate over use of restraints and seclusion as punishments at the Minnesota Extended Treatment Options (METO) facility in Cambridge continues. […]

Debate over use of restraints and seclusion as punishments at the Minnesota Extended Treatment Options (METO) facility in Cambridge continues. A hearing set for August 30 was postponed as attorneys for the state and for families affected by METO’s practices discussed a possible settlement. That raised hopes that a settlement would end the legal dispute, which has gone on for more than a year.

But the hearing is now rescheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 21 in U.S. District Court in downtown St. Paul. The Jensen, Brinker/Allen and Jacobs families will argue for class action status in the case. They also will renew their request for a temporary injunction that would prohibit the use of various types of restraints and the use of seclusion at METO, which is a program of the Minnesota Department of Human Services. DHS and DHS staff are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

The families involved are the Jensen, Brinker/Allen and Jacobs families. The Jensens were the initial plaintiffs. The Brinker/Allens and Jacobs families joined the case later. All allege abuse of their children at METO, through use of restraints as well as seclusion. The families contend that restraints and seclusion were used improperly on their developmentally disabled children.

Their intent is to get the practices to stop, arguing that there are more appropriate ways to handle behavior problems. The preliminary injunction would cover all types of restraints, including mechanical restraints, manual restraints, prone restraint, seclusion, individual isolation, electroconvulsive therapy and chemical restraints.

But if recent federal court filings are any indication, the case has become even more frustrating for the families and their attorneys. Attorneys for the families and for the state are disagreeing on a number of points, including the number of potential plaintiffs there could be in a class action case. There is also continued sparring over the amount of information the state has provided to the court and to the defendants.

One recent court filing stated, “In an obvious attempt to blame the victims, the state defendants seek to highlight behaviors of METO residents to justify the State’s abuse, twist protected settlement discussions, cherry pick e-mails to suggest plaintiffs and their counsel are greedy and care only about money, attacking the motives of opposing counsel and insisting that restraint has stopped at METO when they know, and have openly stated, that the state fully intends to continue its practice of restraining people with developmental disabilities.”

One filing on behalf of the families states, “On May 4, 1950, Governor Luther Youngdahl delivered a speech before a meeting of the American Psychiatric Association convention, stating: ‘…there is no place in a state hospital for mechanical restraints.’ Yet, here we are. Again. The state first rejected the dread of restraints 60 long years ago with the enlightened words of Governor Youngdahl. The state was then reminded in the 1980s and 1990s after a federal lawsuit shuttered the Cambridge State Hospital due to conditions of improper care and treatment. Now this case in 2010, despite the Minnesota Legislature’s creation of METO in response to the Cambridge lawsuit. Because the State Defendants continue to employ treatment strategies involving restraints, this Court should issue a preliminary injunction to protect the vulnerable citizens in the State’s institutions and certify this lawsuit as a class action.”

The lawsuit also seeks damages for violations of the federal civil and constitutional rights of people with developmental disabilities abused at METO, and asks the court to declare as unconstitutional the Department of Human Services’ position that restraint is permitted against people with developmental disabilities.

Court documents state that staff there routinely restrained patients in a prone face-down position and placed them in metal handcuffs and leg hobbles at risk of injury, causing them to struggle, cry and yell once they were in the restraints. METO also placed patients in seclusion rooms for extended time periods, and deprived them of visits from family members. The lawsuit also states that restraints and seclusion were used by METO as a practice of behavior modification, coercion, discipline, convenience and retaliation. METO staff allegedly restrained some patients hundreds of times, and used these tactics for conduct as benign as touching a pizza box, not staying within eyesight of staff, or even after patients were calmly eating a snack or watching television.

The lawsuit was filed in July 2010. Since then there have been numerous motions, as well as discussions of when METO could phase out the use of restraints, proposed METO policies calling for ending use of restraints and ways METO staff could be trained in lieu of using restraints. But those discussions haven’t resulted in any timelines or agreements.

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