Back to Basic Civil Rights in Psych Hospitals - Massachusetts and Beyond

The Right to receive visitors

Greetings to ALL Cause members, and a VERY warm welocme to all who are new to this list (71 members and counting).

We are currently embraking on an ambitious effort in Massachusetts to demand that persons with mental health conditions ('consumer/survivors') are treated with the basic humanity and dignity ALL people deserve. There has been a law in effect here for over a decade to that end, but it is a joke at hospital units. This is an issue of basic civil liberties and it's at the essence of Democracy. The violations we are seeing are scandalous. But together, we mustl work to demand the dignity of this population.

Following is the newest installment of a series I've been writing for the Transformation Center (Mass.) "Recovery Network News" (RNN) e-newsletter. Each week, I am focusing on one of the Five Rights: what they are, what the language is, and what violations are. Previous installments can be read under "View all announcements".

This is the fourth in a series for RNN dedicated to raising consciousness about civil rights in inpatient mental health settings, submitted by Jonathan Dosick. Legislation has been filed at the State House to enforce these rights and add a sixth: daily access to fresh air and the outdoors. These are State Laws, but are routinely violated.

The third of the “Five Fundamental Rights” (Mass. General Laws, Chapter 123, Section 23) is (exact text):

(c) to receive visitors of such person’s own choosing daily and in private, at reasonable times. Hours during which visitors may be received may be limited only to protect the privacy of other persons and to avoid serious disruptions in the normal functioning of the facility or program and shall be sufficiently flexible as to accommodate individual needs and desires of such person and the visitors of such person.

This is one of two Fundamental Rights that can be temporarily suspended for individual patients (access to phones is the other). Any suspension MUST meet the following criteria (paraphrased):

1.) Access to visitors may ONLY be suspended by a hospital administrator or his/her designee;

2.) Suspension is temporary, and there must be documentation in a client’s record that the following conditions exist:

• Based on the patient’s previous experience having visitors, he/she presents an immediate risk of harm to self or others; and/or
• There is a legitimate concern that criminal activity will be conducted during the visit; and/or
• Prior to suspension, less restrictive measures have either been tried and failed, or would be futile to attempt.
• The presence of visitors violates peoples’ privacy, or significantly disrupts daily functioning of the unit.

3.) Suspension of this right cannot last longer than the time needed to prevent harm to self or others.

This right is also commonly violated. I have visited and been visited in hallways, kitchens, and common areas.


- The unit has extremely limited visiting hours.
- Visits are kept extremely short.
- Visitors are not allowed, even though there is no evidence they would be disruptive or troublesome.
- Visits can only take place in common areas, i.e., dayrooms, kitchens, dining areas, hallways, even patient rooms if shared.
- There is a staff member present during a visit.
- The decision to deny visitor(s) is made by anyone other than the hospital administrator and/or his/her designee, or there is no basis for denial.
- There is some flexibility in visiting times – for both patients and those visiting them.
- Denial of visitors lasts longer than necessary.

These violations are tricky, because the language can be interpreted in different ways by the facility.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, OR TO REPORT A VIOLATION OF YOUR RIGHTS: Your accounts are an extremely important 'tool' in our effort for justice. Please limit stories to the last three years, and specify which hospital the violation(s) occurred at. ALL accounts will be kept CONFIDENTIAL unless you specify otherwise.


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