I wrote this piece after attending the 1 year memorial of the death of Esmin Green in New York City. I'm sharing it again because today is the 8 year anniversary of her death. We must not forget!
Esmin Green's death by neglect at a Brooklyn, NY psychiatric emergency room is symptomatic of the widespread and systematic injustice often perpetrated against people with mental health disabilities.
On Friday, June 19, 2009, I went to Brooklyn, NY, to attend a rally and candlelight vigil in memory of Esmin Green. Ms. Green's story is but a symptom of the widespread and systematic injustice often perpetrated against people with mental health disabilities.
Esmin Green was 49 years old. An émigré from Jamaica, she was a hard worker who'd recently lost her job, and was about to lose her home. Like many of us in such circumstances, this was not an easy time for her.
A well-meaning pastor decided that perhaps Ms. Green should get some help, and had her taken to Kings County Hospital Center Psychiatric Emergency Room. There, she changed into a hospital gown, and went to the waiting room so that she could be seen.
Ms. Green waited a very, very long time, and still was not seen. She did not receive a physical exam, nor did anyone speak to her. She just sat there waiting. People came and went about their business, and Ms. Green waited.
Twenty-five hours later, Ms. Green was still waiting when she suddenly collapsed. Did anyone come to her aid? No! People came and went about their business. A security guard came and took a quick peek. Did he summon anyone? No! A nurse scooted by on her stool, glanced, and whizzed away, not once getting up. Ms. Green lay on that floor for an hour before another nurse decided to come over and take her pulse. By then, it was too late. Esmin Elizabeth Green was dead.
According to a report by the New York City Department of Investigations (DOI), her neglect was not the result of overcrowding or of overwork. The report also indicates that hospital staffers lied and falsified records. If not for the fact that the emergency room's security video captured the horrible sequence of Ms. Green's waiting and her death, the hospital would have had the perfect cover-up.
Why did Esmin Green die? Frankly, the reason was the fact that she had a psychiatric label. I'm not the only one who believes this. There were many psychiatric survivors and advocates at the rally in Ms. Green's memory, which took place exactly one year after she died. Several of the survivors were former patients at that very hospital. They told horrible stories of neglect and abuse that happened to them there. Sheila Hill, a mental health advocate who attended the rally, said "If a person has a psychiatric label they don't have credibility and they complain, well they're just mentally ill." Sarah Berman, a psychiatric survivor said, "It is not unusual at all. It's something that could have happened to any of us. The sad fact is, when you have a mental health diagnosis, you have no credibility. Anything you say or do is suspect, so if you complain about ill treatment or discrimination, you're simply dismissed as being crazy".
I know. I, too, am a psychiatric survivor. I remember some years ago, having terrible stomach pains. Sometimes, it was so bad that I found myself in the emergency room. As soon as the doctors looked through my records and found that I had a history of depression, they would tell me that the pain was "in my head" or "from my depression", and they would pat me on the back and send me home. This happened several times until finally, I was sent for an ultrasound. To make a long story short, I required emergency surgery.
What is really infuriating about Esmin Green's story is that discrimination on a number of levels is what led to her death. Her involuntary placement at Kings County Hospital was a violation of Olmstead, a Supreme Court ruling that states that unnecessary institutionalization is discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act. People with disabilities have the right to live and to receive services in the most integrated setting possible. The neglect that she endured from health care staff and hospital workers was indicative of a pervasive prejudice against people with mental health disabilities.
Too often, those of us with psychiatric disabilities endure injustice at the hands of others. Ignorance and fear seem to be the driving force behind this. People hear the stereotypes, and believe, as well as act upon them. Some are discriminated against in housing, work, health care, school; their basic human rights violated. Some are unfairly locked away for the crime of having this disability. Some, like Esmin Green, even die.