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'We don't want patients to be mistreated.' Agencies push for change in wake of 7 investigation

Bri and Heather
Posted at 4:00 PM, May 14, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-14 21:09:22-04

(WXYZ) — May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and with the public push to get more people to seek help if they need it, advocacy groups and experts say Michigan must make sure that psychiatric help doesn’t do more harm than good.

The 7 Investigators first showed you in February how patients were alleging they’d been held against their will in psychiatric hospitals.

VIDEO: Watch the original investigation from February below:

Michigan doc pre-signed blank forms that can rob you of your freedom

Now the Michigan Psychiatric Society is speaking out about what I uncovered and several advocacy agencies are coming together to create change in the wake of the investigation.

“I was saddened to hear that so many patients were mistreated by the system,” said Michigan Psychiatric Society President Dr. Theadia Carey.

The Michigan Psychiatric Society is the local chapter of the American Psychiatric Association.

Dr. Carey says she’s very concerned about what my recent investigation revealed.

“I’ll never forget it. I’ll never get over it,” said Bri Jackson, who says she was hospitalized against her will in 2022.

Sources inside both Pontiac General Hospital and StoneCrest Center in Detroit told the 7 Investigators that psychiatrist Dr. Nagy Kheir was pre-signing crucial court documents called clinical certificates that are used in the civil commitment process.

Photographs show the pre-signed blank forms that were ready for use inside Pontiac General, and the 7 Investigators obtained copies of the blank Clinical Certificates from both hospitals that already had Dr. Kheir’s signature on them.

“It's unethical without a question,” said Dr. Carey. “I was surprised to hear that there is a physician pre-signing physicians certificates for involuntary hospitalization. I was never trained that way. I have never pre-signed a form.”

Dr. Carey says the decision to hold a patient for involuntary treatment with one of those clinical certificates should be made with great care.

“How important is preserving somebody's civil rights in this process,” I asked.

“I think is to the utmost importance. We don't want the system to be abused. We don't want patients to be mistreated,” said Dr. Carey. “I want patients to know that the large majority of psychiatrists are doing a good job. We're not going to overreact. We're not going to involuntarily treat you against your will.”

In the investigation that aired in February, I asked Dr. Kheir about those pre-signed court forms.

“You’re pre-signing clinical certificates,” I said.

“Yes,” said Dr. Kheir.

“Before patients are examined,” I asked.

“Yes,” said Kheir.

“Doesn’t that violate their rights,” I asked.

“Not uh, we examine them but I sign it to be ready for the time factor,” said Kheir.

VIDEO: Watch Dr. Kheir speak with 7 Investigator Heather Catallo:

Dr. Kheir speaks with 7 Investigator Heather Catallo

Even patients who were not forced to stay using a clinical certificate say they too were held against their will.

“It's time I'll never get back. It's time stolen away from me. I had no due process. I had civil rights that were violated. And it's just changed me for the worse,” said Jackson.

That’s why the Mental Health Association in Michigan and Disability Rights Michigan are coming together to educate our community about the voluntary and involuntary admission process for psychiatric hospitals.

“We saw that story as filled with potential rights violations of patients. And we wanted to make sure that people who were seeking treatment or had loved ones who are seeking treatment in a hospital setting, knew the rights attached when you seek that treatment,” said Simon Zagata, the Director of Community and Institutional Rights for Disability Rights Michigan.

Disability Rights Michigan is a federally funded nonprofit that’s designated to investigate abuse and protect people’s rights.

I asked Zagata about the allegation that patients continue to make: that psych hospitals are threatening them with the court commitment process if they don’t sign in voluntarily.

“The law says the hospital has to present the option of signing in voluntarily to patients that thinks it is appropriate to do that with. Now to me [that] is different than ‘If you don't sign in, we are going to court.’ That can very easily sound like a threat,” said Zagata.

“That's how the patients describe it,” I said.

“That does not shock me,” said Zagata.

Dr. Kheir would not talk to us for this story, but he previously denied keeping patients longer than necessary:

“A lot of patients there say they were basically coerced into signing in voluntarily, because they were threatened that you would take them to court and make them stay longer if they didn’t sign in voluntarily. And so they stay longer,” I said.

“Maybe there’s misunderstanding by them. You have to explain the procedure,” said Dr. Kheir. “I’m not eager to keep patients, I’m not this guy at all.”

“We have this national push for you should seek out mental health treatment, and we need to talk about it and you need to get it. And that's right, and that's true. And people should. But then if people's rights are being violated in the places providing that treatment, it discourages people from doing so. And it makes the problem worse, not better,” said Zagata.

That’s why tonight, we are bringing you a live virtual roundtable with experts from Disability Rights Michigan and the Mental Health Association in Michigan, so you and your family members can know your rights. Learn more here.