Harrington Co-Occurring Disorders Unit

Name of Facility: Harrington Co-Occurring Disorders Unit

Location of Facility (City, State/Province, Country): Webster, MA, USA

Number of Stars: 5

Description of Experience: The facility was the cleanest place I’d ever been in but didn’t feel sterile. The nurses and MHAs, with one exception, were perfect about respecting my gender, with one going above and beyond to help me. I actually learned helpful things in OT/group and the psychiatrist there really cared. I felt very safe and I was able to open up about some of my trauma for the first time. I’m glad that I went there.

Type of Program (inpatient, outpatient, residential, etc.): inpatient (self check-in, later sectioned)

Anything that might have impacted your stay? i.e. being LGBTQ+: nonverbal, Autistic, trans woman, PTSD, schizoaffective

Year(s) Your Experience(s) Occurred (i.e. 2015): April 2017

News Articles on VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System

Name of Hospital: VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System

Location: Leeds/Northampton, MA, USA


Austen Riggs Center

Name of Hospital: Austen Riggs Center

City, State/Province, Country: Stockbridge, MA, USA

Number of Stars: 5

Comment: The Austen Riggs Center helped me save my own life many times over. I was a patient at Riggs 16 years ago for 4½ months. My pre-admission interview was on my 31st birthday. I was offered an opening in their residential treatment program three weeks later. The wait seemed like an eternity at the time and caused me great anxiety but it was also an important part of my preparation for the treatment experience. Riggs often has a wait for admission that can be a few weeks long. For patients in immediate crisis, waiting for admission can be problematic. Shortly before going to Riggs, I voluntarily admitted myself to a locked psych unit for 72 hours, an experience I hope to never repeat. After the unpleasant but vitally necessary experience of being “trapped” in a locked unit, I was ready and eager to begin work as a Riggs patient learning to appropriately exercise my own authority.

I went to the Austen Riggs Center struggling to get an upper hand on bipolar disorder with suicidality for over 12 years. While I managed to graduate from college with great achievement, success later eluded me in graduate school, and I had dropped out of two different master level programs prior to going to Riggs. I had been in regular outpatient therapy and was seeing a separate psychiatrist for medications for well over 5 years prior to my admission to Riggs. My therapist described Austen Riggs as a place for “high functioning individuals” where patients learn to manage the significant problems that impede them from living a fuller life. Had I not chosen to go to Riggs, I question whether I would be alive today, or be grateful to be alive and healthy today. For me, the Riggs experience marked the start of a new beginning in my life. I am forever grateful for that opportunity.

Austen Riggs definitely did not cure me of my problems and I didn’t leave Riggs “fixed”. However I left Riggs functioning much more within acceptable parameters, with a better sense of how to confront the challenges of both my illness and life in general so that I could function out in the world more independently. It took many, many years of additional outpatient therapy and medication management to reach the healthier, more resilient state that I now feel I have earned with a lot of personally insightful work. I still see a therapist (now going on 20 years) and a psychiatrist. Riggs provided me with a safe, nurturing, dignified place to begin that process of learning how to manage my own personal authority within a therapeutic community setting where I felt held and valued as a individual.

Every member of the staff I interacted with—from the nurses to the food services personnel to the doctors to the business office staff–had a level of commitment, respect and caring for me during my treatment. Staff maintained this atmosphere of respectful caring without squelching my individual authority. This is one part of what make the Riggs open setting unique. The other aspect of the open setting is being part of a therapeutic community where respect for others (both fellow patients and staff members) is paramount to the community’s wellness. This respect for others occurs without stifling one’s ability to speak one’s mind or personal concerns. Examined living is a powerful process to experience and to engage within a relatively self-contained environment. The power of examined living readily becomes salient after discharge from Riggs upon returning to the outside world. As a patient at Riggs, one is constantly challenging and being challenged by others in this environment in a way that respects differences, healing and the primacy of individual authority. Community meetings are a big deal at Riggs. I don’t know of any other treatment programs that fully recreate the sense of environment and community like Riggs does in combination with all the services that it provides. And the Riggs program is even better today than it was 16 years ago!

Type of program (i.e. day program, inpatient): Residential treatment (open setting) and day-treatment

Any other identities/marginalizations (i.e. race/gender/sexuality) that could have influenced your stay?:

Year(s) : 2000-2001

St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center

Name of Hospital: St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center

City, State/Province, Country: Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Number of Stars: 3

Comment: I was treated frustratingly upon my intake. I was required to strip fully naked and submit to a physical exam, which occurred about 15-20 minutes after my very emotional transfer to the ward. They wanted to take my sweatpants away, for having a drawstring, leaving me in itchy scrubs for the duration of my stay, but acquiesced when I suggested just cutting the string out. That was not a reassuring moment for my confidence in their common sense.

The rest of my stay (6 days) was acceptable, except for the part where I saw blatant neglect from the staff. My roommate told me that she had borderline personality disorder and had been inpatient there for a while (some months). At one point she fell and hit her head on the ground and none of the staff even moved.

About five minutes later, upon realizing that she still wasn’t getting up, the staff started to help her, including calling for medical assistance from outside the ward. Upon the imminent arrival of the medical team, one of the psychiatric team members rushed around distributing gloves, as if the requirement had only just occurred to someone. I can only imagine what other things they forgot.

Type of program (i.e. day program, inpatient): Inpatient

Year(s) : 2012

NSMC Union Hospital

Name of Hospital: NSMC Union Hospital

City, State/Province, Country: Lynn, Massachusetts, USA

Number of Stars: 1

Comment: I was placed here involuntarily when I was 17. I’ve been to MANY hospitals but this is by far the worst.

I was here after (serious) a suicide attempt (transferred from ICU) during a snow storm. You would think that a mental hospital would have windows that were locked, bolted, barred. The window next to my bed was broken and could not close. I was not provided extra blankets.

For a while I was the only person on the ward above the age of 6 and one of the (male) nurses spent a lot of time in my room, telling me I was “not like the other girls” etc (because I was reading a book) and strangely enough, gave me several mouse puppets.

Worst of all was my psychiatrist. He insisted that despite my suicide attempt, that I wasn’t depressed or suffering from any mental illness at all. He took me off of all my medication (including benzos cold turkey) and prescribed thyroid medication. He insisted that I was only sad because I was OVERWEIGHT and that if I lost weight, I would be just fine. all it said on my discharge plan was: low calorie diet.

Type of program (i.e. day program, inpatient): Inpatient

Any other identities/marginalizations (i.e. race/gender/sexuality) that could have influenced your stay?: gay, trans, overweight?

Year(s) : 2013

Holyoke Hospital

Name of Hospital: Holyoke Hospital

City, State/Province, Country: Holyoke, Massachusetts, USA

Number of Stars: 4.5

Comment: Compassionate and kind staff; patient with me and with everyone I saw them interact with; considerate of my specific needs; physicians were respectful of my experience of myself and my illness; the food was okay; my meds were dispensed on time; I felt safe most of the time and when I didn’t feel safe a staff member spent time with me until I was more stable; possibly the best thing that happened was that the night staff were really compassionate when I had night terrors and would start screaming. I spent 6 days there and I would feel safe going there again.

Type of program (i.e. day program, inpatient): I went to both in-patient (6 days) and day program (3 days – there wasn’t anything wrong with the day program, it just wasn’t for me)

Any other identities/marginalizations (i.e. race/gender/sexuality) that could have influenced your stay?: I’m a white, via-gendered, queer femme in my 50s. I’m disabled, low-income, and I have PTSD.

Arbour-Fuller Hospital

Name of Hospital: Arbour-Fuller Hospital

City, State/Province, Country: South Attleboro, MA, USA

Number of Stars: 1

Comment: Entire experience was horrific. My birth name was displayed on a large board at the front of the hall. I was strip searched upon entering. They insisted on watching me while showering or using the bathroom and I was put on extended suicide watch for literally no reason (I was following every rule to the letter and going above and beyond to prove I was “fine” because I wanted out. The entire staff was rude and horrible with pronouns and identity. Myself and others were denied medications and threatened when medications were asked for.

The entire place was freezing cold and some people had no socks. Staff told me horror stories about other patients to scare me. Multiple horror movies were shown in shared space regardless of whether or not people found it triggering. The food was beyond disgusting. I had to lie my way out of there because I was told by staff that I could be kept 6 months if I disobeyed them. An old teacher of mine’s husband quit his job there after hearing doctors talk about how suffering was a good thing for patients.

Type of program (i.e. day program, inpatient): Inpatient

Any other identities/marginalizations (i.e. race/gender/sexuality) that could have influenced your stay?: Trans, bisexual.