In the wake of Virginia Tech, a college could not be criticized for exercising caution on re-admitting a student who was involuntarily hospitalized, attempted suicide in that time frame, and was forcibly medicated upon court order. But there comes a time when standard procedure encroaches on the violation of individual civil rights – especially if the specific claims are not investigated and institutions simply defer to the professionals in question. Emily Pierce of South Salem knows this all too well, as she seeks a platform for an injustice on just this order.
Pierce has long been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and PTSD. Last February, the Fordham University Social Work student was having a tough time getting through the weekend. Her doctor was out of town, and she needed someone to talk to.
Exercising the appropriate action, Pierce called the police and freely left yourself open to be admitted to a hospital so the difficulties could be passed under supervision. Somehow in the discourse between the trooper and New York Presbyterian Hospital in White Plains, Emily’s cry for help was mis-communicated from needing a safe place to she wants to drive her car into a ditch.
Thus, the involuntary hospitalization alluded to at the start ensued.
But since admittance was her top priority, Emily deferred in her own right. As such, Dr. Xiaolei Baran, the attending physician, initially wanted to discharge Emily but her therapist overruled.
Pierce then asked for something to help her sleep. Dr. Baran prescribed an anti-psychotic to address the insomnia. In turn, Pierce raised concerns that anti-psychotics in the past had elevated her anxiety and produced suicidal tendencies.
Falling on the deaf ears of Dr. Baran and allowing for no tapering off period for the medication that was being changed, Pierce reluctantly went along. Two days later, she attempted to hang herself.
In the aftermath, Dr. Baran prescribed another medication that had similar side effects and again Pierce reluctantly complied. With no change in the level of anxiety, she now refused medication.
Dr. Baran’s response was nothing short of medieval. “If you don’t take the meds, we’re going to propose ECT, and if you refuse ECT, we’re going to take you to court,” remembers Pierce.
Pierce, of course, did not go along and Dr. Baran re-diagnosed her as having Schizoaffective Disorder. The staff then began to badger and harass Pierce in hopes of verifying Dr. Baran’s diagnosis. “I was tormented by questions to try to show I was paranoid,” she says.
They even forced Pierce to shower with the door open to unhinge her mindset.
In court, Dr. Baran was allowed to be evasive with her answers and was mostly out of line with what the hospital’s medical records showed, according to Pierce. Baran also accused Emily of having a history of abusing alcohol and anti-anxiety medications. “She basically said I was a drug addict,” says Pierce.
Of course, those of Emily's situation are easily dismissed, and the outcome was decided in her doctor’s favor. In what might be considered an admission of guilt, Dr. Baran proceeded to prescribe a non-therapeutic dose of the problematic medication that the court mandated. “That’s illegal,” says Pierce.
Nonetheless, Pierce was soon released and went back to the medication regimen that her own doctor had previously prescribed. Fordham University’s subsequent actions then added insult to injury.
Informing Fordham herself that she was out of class because of her psychiatric condition, the situation escalated as someone from the hospital released the records of Pierce's stay to the Dean's office without her consent. “Again, the law was broken,” she says.
All told, Fordham will not readmit Emily without a full release of her medical records.
As such, Pierce's lawyer does not diminish the seriousness of such an invasive action. “She has a right to privacy,” Andrea Risoli state’s the situation flatly.
Several semesters later, Emily still waits and is seeking a compromise with the school through the Department of Education and the Office of Civil Rights. But Emily’s vision extends beyond the injustice perpetrated on herself. “The system tramples over people’s rights, and I want to speak for those who cannot advocate for themselves as easily as I can,” she concludes.
Dr Baran did not respond to several phone calls to give her side of the story.
Note : Emily wanted to acknowledge the help of Senator Greg Ball, and the letter he wrote to the Department of Justice on her behalf, and the attentiveness Representative Sean Patrick Maloney has given her case. Additionally, Emily would welcome calls to the Governor’s office and the hospital to voicing their concerns.
Governor Cuomo (518) 474-8390, New York Presbyterian Hospital (914) 997-5700