Originally published in RLC Newsletter, September, 2012
Did you know that according to Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 123, Section 23, you have five fundamental rights that apply any time you are receiving services from any program or hospital unit that is operated by, licensed by or contracting with the Department of Mental Health?? (This includes state and private hospitals, community mental health centers and residential programs.)
THESE RIGHTS INCLUDE*:
* Reasonable access to a telephones to make and receive confidential calls
Examples of common violations: Pay phones unless change is provided, phones in hallways or common areas, phones that are turned off throughout the day
* The ability to send and receive sealed, unopened, uncensored mail
Examples of common violations: Mail is opened and checked without due cause, writing materials and postage are not provided in reasonable quantities
* The ability to receive visitors of own choosing in private, at reasonable times, with limitations only to protect the privacy of other persons and to avoid serious disruptions to the normal functioning, with sufficient flexibility as to accommodate individual needs and desires of the person receiving services AND the visitors of that person.
Examples of common violations: Limited visiting hours, refusal of flexibility for visitor’s schedule, taking away visiting privileges in circumstances where there isn’t a clear and immediate danger
* A humane psychological and physical environment with privacy in security in resting, sleeping (not excluding roommates), dressing, bathing and personal hygiene, reading and writing and in toileting.
Examples of common violations: Being placed with a roommate that creates an unsafe space, observation while bathing, dressing/undressing, routine strip searches
* To receive or refuse to receive visits and phone calls from an attorney, legal advocate (can be a peer advocate!), physician, psychologist, clergy member or social worker outside of visiting hours and whether or not requested by the person receiving services.
Examples of common violations: Person is not given contact information for free legal service upon admission, no flexibility in scheduling meetings, peer advocates not recognized as legitimate, etc.
The law also requires that these rights be posted and provided to people as they enter services.
* These rights have been summarized here. For the full legal text, visit here.