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Patients Deprived Of Outdoor Access at City-Run Psychiatric Hospitals

Individuals subjected to uninterrupted indoor confinement while receiving inpatient mental health care experienced extreme distress, the report found.
NYC Health + Hospitals/Kings County. Photo: Supplied/Google Maps.

A recent report from Mental Hygiene Legal Services (MHLS) and Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) detailed a months-long investigation into the denial of fresh air and outdoor access to individuals receiving psychiatric treatment in hospitals operated by NYC Health and Hospitals (H+H).

The report found the majority of H+H hospitals continuously deprive patients of all access to fresh air and the outdoors, regardless of their circumstances or the length of their confinement, according to a news release. 

Patients interviewed by MHLS during the investigation widely reported the profound negative impact of this deprivation on their lives. Individuals subjected to uninterrupted indoor confinement while receiving inpatient mental health care experienced extreme distress. 

“Imagine going to a New York City hospital to get help for depression and learning that you can only receive inpatient treatment if you spend your entire hospitalization inside without any access to fresh air, nature, or the outdoors,” said Leonard Simmons, a principal attorney at MHLS. “That is the reality in the majority of H+H hospitals. Ironically, if the person committed a crime and were in jail or prison, they would instead be guaranteed the right to regular outdoor access within days.”

Some of H+H’s own written policies recognize “the therapeutic and healing benefits of fresh outdoor air,” and the “significant positive impact on the health and wellness of patients.” Yet, many H+H hospitals deny patients receiving psychiatric treatment, including children, any access to the outdoors regardless of their clinical presentation or length of stay.

Seven H+H hospitals deny all their adult patients receiving psychiatric treatment access to the outdoors. The policy spans in 27 separate H+H units in total, three of which treat adolescents, for a total of nearly 800 licensed beds.

“Individuals should not be excluded from access to the outdoors and fresh air simply because of their mental health disability,” said Erin Gallagher, senior staff attorney at DRA. “Permitting patients to languish in locked units for months without stepping foot outdoors violates their legally protected rights and is unacceptable.”

MHLS and DRA are advocating for a change in H+H practices. The organizations demand H+H implement and enforce policies that protect the fresh air rights of all these patients in their care, whether the patient’s hospital stay lasts two weeks or one year.