Last winter, City Limits sent an undercover reporter to document widespread neglect and dismal conditions at Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center’s psychiatric unit. Since then, the Bushwick hospital has started making some major improvements.
No, we didn’t get a thank-you card. Instead, this week we got a bill for $8,400–sent straight to our publisher.
In January, reporter Kevin Heldman spent seven-and-a-half days undercover as a mental patient at Woodhull. During his time inside the 133-bed facility, Heldman lived like any other patient, coping with the lousy conditions and half-hearted care, and getting charged $1,400 a day. The bed frames were filthy. The walls and floor were stained with scum. The bathroom was flooded so often that patients had to lay bed sheets on the floor to soak up the water.
But perhaps the most annoying–and symbolic–part of life in the hospital was the nursing station. Caged in Plexiglas, nurses and doctors would spend most of their time inside the station, physically and emotionally barricaded off from the patients.
Now, those six stations are coming down. As part of a major renovation effort, the hospital is tearing down the cages. In a gut renovation of the bathrooms, it will also fix leaky toilets and showers. Hallways are being repainted and detailed with stenciling. Patients’ rooms are getting new paint and more shelving. Even the garden area is to be spruced up, with new benches and plants. Renovations for each unit will take about one month; the repairs are slated to be finished by March.
Psychiatric attorney Perry Habib says the changes already have improved the quality of life on the ward. “From my eye, it seems more pleasant. There’s a feeling of openness, less of a fortress mentality,” said Habib, who represents Woodhull patients for Mental Hygiene Legal Services, a state-funded legal assistance group.
Hospital officials wouldn’t confirm whether the sudden spate of renovations is in response to the article, which has garnered accolades from the American Psychiatric Association and won a letter of praise from noted neurologist Oliver Sacks. Back in May, Woodhull executive director Cynthia Carrington-Murray promised City Limits that the problems we uncovered would be investigated and addressed. “We’re looking into the allegations in the article,” Carrington-Murray said. “We’re looking at what we have done and what we plan to do. Some of it is worth looking at. We’re meeting with staff to identity the things we need to work on.”
But even though the press office couldn’t tell us who was responsible for the renovations, their billing department knew the score: $8,400 for Heldman’s seven-and-a-half days.