Five Fundamental Rights


The 6th Fundamental Right to Fresh Air
signed into law by Governor Duval Patrick ~ January 2015

Save the Date for Fresh Air Celebration!   Wednesday, April 15th, 10:00-11:30, Members’ Lounge at MA State House

 Press Release 2-5-15  MH Legal Advisory Committee

Know Your Rights!   The Five Fundamental Rights

Excerpts from Robert Whitaker’s testimony in support of the “Five Fundamental Rights/Fresh Air” bill before the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse 9-23-09.

(Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 123, Section 23)
These are YOUR RIGHTS under LAW. Here are ways the law can be violated.
(Legal language is paraphrased).

Any person hospitalized in a psychiatric unit licensed by the Department of Mental Health (this includes all private psychiatric hospitals), State hospitals, or living in DMH or DMH-licensed residential facilities, shall have the following rights:

Fundamental Right #1:
(a) The right to have reasonable access to a telephone to make and receive confidential phone calls, in private.
Violations include:

  • No phones are available on psychiatric units.
  • Patients aren’t allowed to make calls, no matter how important.
  • Only pay phones are available, and a reasonable source of money or assistance to make calls is not provided.
  • Telephones are located in hallways or common rooms.
  • Telephones are located adjacent to/next to nursing stations, so staff members can hear your conversations.
  • Staff listens to phone calls.
  • Telephones are shut off for unreasonably long periods of time.

Fundamental Right #2:
(b) The right to send and receive sealed, unopened, uncensored mail. Writing materials and stamps in reasonable quantities shall be available for use, and assistance should be provided in writing, addressing and posting letters.
Violations include:

  • You aren’t allowed to send mail or open mail addressed to you, without it being inspected by staff, unless there is “good cause” to do so, and the inspection is ordered by administrators. Good cause is defined as suspected transmission of contraband materials ONLY.
  • Mail (incoming or outgoing) is read by staff.
  • Writing implements, paper, and a reasonable amount of postage to write letters are not provided.

Fundamental Right #3:
(c) The right to receive visitors of your own choosing daily and in private, at reasonable times.
Violations include:

  • You aren’t provided with a private and unmonitored space to meet with visitors.
  • Visits are restricted to public areas (i.e., kitchen, dining room, dayroom, hallway, etc.)
  • Staff is present or monitoring visits, so they can overhear conversations with visitors.
  • You can’t refuse visits from people you don’t wish to see.
  • Visiting hours are limited to one to two hours a day, or non-consecutive one-hour periods.
  • Visiting hours are short and the hospital is in a remote location.

Fundamental Right #4:
(d) The right to have a humane psychological and physical environment. Each person shall have accommodations which allow them privacy and security in resting, sleeping, dressing, bathing, toileting, and personal hygiene, as well as reading and writing.
Violations include:

  • Denial of a safe and reasonably private environment for resting and sleeping.
  • Observation by staff while bathing, using the bathroom, or dressing/undressing.
  • Being placed, especially in residential facilities, with roommates who trigger you or endanger your own health.
  • Staff insensitivity to trauma issues.

Fundamental Right #5:
(e) The right to receive or refuse to receive visits and telephone calls from your attorney or legal advocate, physician, psychologist, clergy member or social worker, at any reasonable time.
Violations include:

  • Not being allowed to meet with an attorney, legal advocate, doctor, psychologist, clergy member or social worker or not allowed to meet at a reasonable time.
  • No flexibility around scheduling such meetings (i.e., visits aren’t allowed beyond regular visiting hours.
  • Upon admission, you are not given the name, address, and telephone number of a free legal service.
  • No clear understanding of who valid legal representatives are.
  • A list of legal advocates is not posted or provided upon request.

Additional Provisions of the law:
Rights (a) and (c) may be temporarily suspended, but ONLY by an administrator.
Violations include:

  • Items (a) (access to telephone) or (c) (visitors) are permanently suspended.
  • Phone and/or visitor rights are suspended without proving that A) the suspension is necessary to prevent immediate harm to self or others; or B) less restrictive measures have been tried and failed or would be futile.
  • Suspension of these rights is not issued by a hospital administrator (superintendent or director).
  • Items (a) and/or (c) are suspended for longer than the time needed to prevent harm to self and/or others.
  • These rights must be posted in a conspicuous place, and available to anyone upon request. They shall be interpreted if a person can’t read or understand English.

Violations include:

  • The “five fundamental rights” are not posted in a prominent place, and/or cannot easily be read.
  • These rights are posted in an altered form that is difficult to understand.
  • Patients aren’t given a copy of these rights when requested.
  • People who don’t speak English cannot or do not have these rights interpreted for them.
  • Any dispute or disagreement regarding these rights shall be documented in the client’s record and subject to timely appeal.

Violations include:

  • You wish to appeal denial of a right, but cannot. [The logic behind House Bill #1945/Senate Bill #743].

Additional Rights:

  • In addition to the [five fundamental] rights, a consumer/survivor shall have the following legal and civil rights:
  • To wear his/her own clothes;
  • To keep and use his/her own personal possessions including toilet articles;
  • To keep and be allowed to spend a reasonable sum of his/her own money for canteen expenses and small purchases;
  • To have access to individual storage space for his/her private use; and
  • To refuse shock treatment (ECT) or lobotomy.

Violations include:

  • Denial of ANY of these rights, unless issued for “good cause” by the superintendent or his/her designee and the reasons entered in the patient’s record.