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Esmin Elizabeth Green Remembered In Toronto

Armen Hareyan's picture

Outside the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) on Queen Street West in Toronto, mourners gathered Friday under a big oak tree on the front lawn to remember Esmin Elizabeth Green, who died in the waiting room of Brooklyn’s largest psychiatric hospital, nearly an hour before anyone realized she was in trouble.

“Similar deaths have occurred in emergency departments of other psychiatric facilities,” says anti-psychiatry activist Don Weitz who prefers to call them psycho prisons. “I’m pretty sure if there was no video we wouldn’t know about this.”

According to a Newsweek story, Green fell out of her chair in the waiting room, twisting and turning between two chairs for twenty minutes. Two security guards and two other staff members passed through the room, glanced at Green, but failed to check her vital signs or call for help. Surveillance camera footage of the June 18th incident was broadcast across North America.

“The sight of patients like Green, wearing a urine-stained hospital gown and lying face down on the floor, was hardly uncommon in the psychiatric emergency room of Kings County Hospital Center,” wrote Jeneen Interlandi, a Newsweek feature story writer. “Neither was the fact that by the time she collapsed, she had been waiting almost 24 hours for a bed. At that moment Green was in line with 32 other patients, some of whom had been waiting just as long, if not longer.”

Black, unemployed, homeless, mother of six, 49-year-old Green had been hospitalized at King’s County on several occasions since January 2007.

The New York Civil Liberties Union has been sounding the alarm about New York City hospitals for some time now, according to blogger Jill Filipovic, Feministe, calling the emergency room and inpatient units at Kings County Hospital “a chamber of filth, decay, indifference and danger.”

“Where is the humanity in that place where we are (today) where a number of people have died?” asks Weitz, pointing to CAMH. “Or the ones who’ve died in other “psycho prisons” across Canada.

Weitz says these abuses and neglect have been going on for many years. “It’s a sad commentary that we have to depend on a video to stop the abuse and neglect.”

In remembering Esmin Green, Weitz also says it’s important to remember other brothers and sisters who’ve died from neglect and abuse. In 1981, Weitz and his colleagues exposed the death of 19-year-old Aldo Alviani, who died 36 hours after admission to Queen St. in 1980 from prescribed drug overdoses of Haldol and other neuroleptics.

In a statement read by Weitz, anti-psychiatry activist Sue Clark-Wittenberg wrote that Esmin’s death was an atrocity committed by the hospital and her death will never be forgotten. No one should ever be treated this way. Her death is a crime against humanity.

David Gonzalez, a former patient of the “G” Building at Kings County Hospital Center asks, “What has brought Ms. Green’s appalling death to public scrutiny is not that it was unusual or uncommon in any way, but that it was caught on video. The lack of compassion, callous indifference, and subsequent cover-up exposes not only the hypocrisy which allows this type of systemic abuse to take place under the guise of treatment, but more importantly exposes the perversion of institutional psychiatry”.

“When doctors neglect a person,” says Weitz, “they are breaking their own Hippocratic oath, violating international law.”

Daniel Hazen, of the Law Project for Psychiatric Rights (PsychRights®) and Stop Force asks, "Was Ms. Green's medical emergency in any way related to the toxic and debilitating psychiatric drugs she might have been taking, possibly through intimidation, coercion, or force? This seems likely in light of the known connection between such drugs and fatal leg blood clots."

Some believe that tragic deaths like that of Esmin Green can prevented by reforming the system, putting more staff on emergency wards or installing more surveillance cameras. Others, like Weitz, maintain that the system itself is oppressive, a violator of every “god damn right you want to speak of.”

From 1951 to 1953, Weitz was locked up and forcibly drugged with 110 insulin sub coma shocks - administered without his informed consent - in McLean Hospital, a Harvard-affiliated psycho prison a few miles outside Boston. At that time, he says, none of us so-called "mental patients" had an advocate or lawyer to turn to. We had no rights.

“The violation of rights is virtually built into the system, an inherent part of psychiatry,” says Weitz. “When you mention psychiatry, you should – at the same time – think of coercion. There’s no such thing as a voluntary patient. Just try and leave the hospital and they’ll send a squad to the front doors to stop you.”

Weitz admits some may take exception to his remarks. But in his experience, over 30 plus years, emergency rooms in psychiatric hospitals – where the Esmin Greens die – are not needed. And even though he’s not a big fan of reform, he’s still prepared to listen to alternative points of view

What we need, says Weitz, is affordable safe housing and 24 hour crisis centres, allowing people to walk in off the street if they’re feeling “uptight” and be met by people who care about them and know how to listen.

“Not to shoot them in the ass the first time they walk in the door.”

Years ago, Weitz and others approached Ward 19 councillor Joe Pantalone about converting CAMH into affordable housing. “Apparently that was too radical for Mr. Pantalone to even consider,” says Weitz. “Because he didn’t answer me.”

“You always send out an alarm to us,” says affordable housing advocate Beric German. “It puts it on our radar, so we know and we remember.”

But Weitz only found out about the Esmin Green tragedy two weeks after it happened, when someone sent him a link to the video.

United States authorities have launched a probe into the incident, according to the Jamaica Gleaner. In the meantime, the family has filed a US$25-million lawsuit against the hospital.

Weitz maintains there’s a lot of silence in Canada about “people who are vulnerable and get abused every day”, adding abuse doesn’t always mean getting “shot in the ass” or electro shocked. “You can be talked down to, humiliated or degraded.”

Psychiatric survivor Mel Starkman previously told Weitz horrifying stories of being drugged and put in solitary confinement for weeks in a psychiatric facility. “And every time he wanted to take a piss, they made him wait a hell of a long time,” says Weitz.

“Do more people have to die before there is action?” asks Weitz. “It looks like that.”

Years ago, when the Toronto Star ran a series on mental health, says Weitz, they didn’t talk about human rights violations. “Who cared about the human rights of Esmin Elizabeth Green?” asks Weitz. “No one at the hospital.”

Weitz contends that people shouldn’t lose their human rights when they enter a psychiatric facility, demanding that Canadian human rights groups educate mental health employees so patients aren’t treated as second class citizens.

“So more people don’t have to die in these places.”

Reported by Toronto Social Justice


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
If you live in Salt Lake, and you get your news from the Salt Lake Tribune, then you probably do know know who Esmin Green was, or how she was killed by medical negligence. A search of the Salt Lake Tribune revealed zero references to Esmin Green. See below: A short letter to Tribune Opinion Page Editor Vern Anderson was curtly rejected. Anyone planning to do a mission in Jamaica; perhaps you can explain the SLC News Blackout on Esmin Green to her friends and relatives down there.

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