Two civil rights group filed a federal class action lawsuit against D.C. Department of Behavioral Health Director Barbara Bazron, St. Elizabeths Hospital CEO Mark Chastang, and the District of Columbia because of a month-long water outage.
The plaintiffs are the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of D.C., which say they took the issue to the court on behalf of four patients.
The two organizations and the law firm representing them, Arnold & Porter LLP, stated on Wednesday that the lawsuit intended to hold the city accountable for its failure to handle the recent water outage due to discovery of harmful bacteria in St. Elizabeths Hospital’s water.
After being left without water for 28 days, it was announced by the city on Wednesday that the clean water supply was restored at the public psychiatric hospital.
The groups described the conditions at the hospital “horrifying.”
“I can’t overstate how egregious the conditions are,” said Margaret Hart, an attorney representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “A hospital without water cannot really function as a hospital.”
Andrea Procaccino, a staff attorney at Disability Rights D.C. said in an interview with DCist:
“I was just horrified, especially by the conditions in the geriatric unit. People in wheelchairs can’t be taken down to shower, so I talked to a man who hasn’t been able to wash his hair for a week. Another woman said the same thing—she was very upset and her hair was very dirty.”
Hundreds of patients staying at the hospital were reportedly deprived of clean drinking water for almost a month, prompting them to use bottled water. The water outage stemmed from a water test in late September that showed bacteria in St. Elizabeths’ water pipes.