How to Force the System to Give You or Your Family Member Better Care

The names and phone numbers in the article are for residents of New York City and may be old and irrelevant for your location. But the theory and approach identified here is the same no matter where you live.

Doctors, day treatment programs, hospitals, government programs, etc. will all say that the family and individual should play an important part in the developing the patient's treatment program. They will say this, until you disagree with them. Then they will say, you don't know what is best. You don't understand. Etc. etc.

If you want a hospital, doctor, day treatment program, government official, etc. to do something they are not doing, you may have to fight harder and be more assertive and less polite than you would otherwise want to be. It is unfortunate but true. The squeaky wheel gets the oil. Following are the seven steps you should take to get the action you want. You should take all seven of them simultaneously. But first, make sure the action you want (admission, release, change in medication, change in doctor, etc.) is really in the best interests of the patient. Discuss your ideas with others. Once you are convinced you are right, discuss it with the doctor, social worker, official, etc., who is in charge. Try and make them see it your way. If that doesn't work, then do the following:

1. Write a letter to the person's boss. Or better yet, their bosses boss. You have already tried to get the person to do what you want and they won't. So now you have to go over their head. In a hospital, the Doctor reports to a Unit Chief, who reports to the Chairman of the Psychiatry department, who reports to the Hospital Director. Write to the top guy at the hospital and send a copy of your letter (cc:) to everyone below him. You are wasting your time if you do not deal with the top guy right off the bat. No one likes to have someone complain to their boss. But that is what you have to do. He will probably not call you back, but because you have sent a copy of your letter (cc:) to all the people under him who are responsible, you can be sure that one of them will get back to you before the boss gets to him. Identify yourself as an AMI/FAMI member, explain the problem and what you want done about it in detail. Send AMI/FAMI a copy of the letter cc:, too.

2. Most hospitals have a Patients Rights Coordinator. Ask for his or her name and complain to her on the phone immediately, and in writing by sending a copy of the letter above. Make sure everyone knows that you are going to the Patients Rights Coordinator.

3. Mark on the letter (cc:), that you are sending a copy to Calrence Sundram, Commissioner, The NYS Commission on Quality of Care for the Mentally Disabled. His address is Suite 1002, 99 Washington Ave. Albany NY 12210-2895. They investigate patients rights problems at state and city run facilities. Also, very importantly, contact NY Lawyers in the Public Interest, 30 West 21st St. NYC 10010 (Call 212-727-2270). They may come to your aid. Also call the Mental Health Law Project (212) 645-7244 and ask them for advise.

4. Mark on the letter (cc:) that you are sending a copy of it to both the NYC and NYS Commissioners of Mental Health. They regulate the city and state programs that serve the mentally ill. In other words, they are the bosses of the hospital/program directors. Send a copy of your letter to Richard Surles, NYS Commissioner of Mental Health, 44 Holland Ave., Albany, NY 12229. At the same address, send copies of your letter to Sandra Forquer, Deputy Commissioner Quality Assurance Division: David Gottesman, Deputy Commissioner Clinical Services Support Division; and Sara Rose, Associate Commissioner, Regional Operations and Community Services.

5. Send (cc:) another copy of your letter to Dr. Luis Marcos, Acting Commissioner NYC Dept. of Mental Health, 93 Worth St., NY NY 10013. Also send a copy to the Assistant Commissioner of your borough office of the NYC Dept. of Mental Health. Following are their names: Brooklyn - Richmond - 16 Court St., Brooklyn, NY 11201 Asst. Commissioner - John Palmer (718) 643-4620 Bronx - 93 Worth St., Rm. 603, New York, NY 10013 Asst. Commissioner - Arnold Korotkin (212) 566-1902 Queens - 93 Worth St., Rm. 815, New York, NY 10013 (212) 566-4826 Asst. Commissioner - Rochelle Spikler Yates Manhattan - 49-51 Chambers St., Rm 720 New York, NY 10007 Asst. Commissioner - Nitza Monges-Ellili, D.S.W. (212) 566-7248

6. Very important: Send a copy of the letter, and let everyone know you are sending a copy of the letter to Robert Hettenbach, Regional Director of the NYS Office of Mental Health at 275 7th Ave., NY NY 10003. Call 633-4303. (This is especially important if your problem involves the transfer of a patient to another hospital. He can help.)

7. Also call all the following numbers and make your complaint. They are Patient's Rights Hotlines run by various organizations. PATIENTS RIGHTS HOTLINES SPONSOR (212) 316-9393 Patient's Rights Hotline (212) 502-0833 NYS Dept. of Health (Hospital Complaints) (518) 445-9989 (Collect on weekends and after hours.) (212) 727-2270 NY Lawyers in Public Interest (518) 473-7378 NYS Comm. on Quality of Care

The object of all this is to make the institution or official realize that you are not going to just fade away and let them give your relative what you consider to be inadequate care. You must send the boss a letter, cc: it to all the people under him, all the government officials over him. It may seem like overkill, but it does work.

Do not be worried that they will "take it out on your relative because you are making a stink. They will get worse care if you do nothing, better care if you do something! Note that a Social Worker in an outpatient program usually reports to a Program Director who reports to the Chairman of Psychiatry at the affiliated hospital, who reports to the Hospital Director. A Case Worker at a residence reports to the Residence Director. The theory is the same. Address your letter to the top guy, and cc: everyone under him, and all the officials over him.

If your problem involves a government agency such as Social Security or Welfare, ask the individual for the name of their boss. Chances are your Case Worker reports to a Team Leader who reports to the head of that office who reports to a Regional Director who reports to the head of the department. You should follow the same procedure outlined above. Send a letter to the top guy, with copies to all the employees under him, all the officials over him. With Medicaid, social security, etc. you have other legal rights.

If you have been denied social security benefits, you have the right to appeal. Call 1 800 772-1213. When you finally get what you want, write a letter, cc: everyone, thanking them for their help in resolving the matter, even if they had nothing to do with it. You made them aware of the problem, it's only fair you make them aware of the resolution of it. If none of this works, call AMI/FAMI. The research that went into this article is made possible by your continuing support of AMI/FAMI.

This article was posted by D.J. Jaffe on behalf of the Alliance for the Mentally Ill/Friends and Advocates of the Mentally Ill, a NYC Chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.



   Copyright 1996-2004. All Rights Reserved.