By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
A Cheyenne nonprofit advocacy organization is suing the administrators of the Wyoming State Hospital and Wyoming Department of Health for restricting access to the hospital’s patients.
Protection and Advocacy Systems is a federally-funded organization that works at the state level to protect people with disabilities by empowering them and advocating on their behalf. There are 57 of these organizations in the United States.
The lawsuit was filed Jan. 18 in U.S. District Court and named WDH interim director Stefan Johansson and WSH administrator Paul Mullenax as defendants. The health department oversees the hospital.
Protection and Advocacy is asking for a judge to prevent Johansson and Mullenax from restricting “full, complete and meaningful access by [P&A] to patients of the Wyoming State Hospital.”
The organization accused hospital officials and the state of Wyoming repeatedly attempting to block, delay, impede and obstruct its federal access authority.
The documents also alleged that since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, the organization staffers began to experience increased telephone access deprivations when attempting to contact hospital patients.
A number of examples were given, with one instance noting a P&A advocate attempting to get in touch with a patient over a nearly two week period, only to find out they were being discharged once the advocate spoke with the patient.
In September 2021, P&A, Mullenax, Johansson and their attorneys participated in a “lengthy” meeting in attempt to resolve the telephone access deprivation, but was unsuccessful.
Dozens of more instances of P&A being denied access to WSH patients were detailed in the lawsuit and suggested that hospital employees were using their caller IDs to screen calls from the organization’s advocates.
The lawsuit noted several other instances of what happens when the facilities operated “in walled secrecy,” such as patients being raped by staff, leaving a patient in a chair for more than 24 hours and allowing them to be bit countless times by ants or even patients dying.
In addition to asking for access to WSH patients in need, P&A also asked for the defendants to pay its attorneys fees and other incurred costs.