Arlington, Va., resident Jonathan Schafer filed a complaint last week with the D.C. Office of Human Rights charging that Psychiatric Institute of Washington, a psychiatric hospital, subjected him to anti-gay discrimination in the way it treated him as a patient.
His complaint accuses an official that he says processed his admission to the hospital on Aug. 7 with saying his problems were due to his sexual orientation and that he should consider entering a heterosexual relationship.
“At the time of intake I was told by the Director of Intake that it sounded as if being a homosexual was messing with my head and that I should try a heterosexual relationship,” Schafer states in his complaint.
“She also said anything I could do with a guy, I could do with a woman,” the complaint says. “She also said I should try a heterosexual relationship so that I can have children and feel that I’ve contributed to the world,” Schafer’s complaint says.
In an 11-minute video of himself talking about his encounter with the intake official that he posted on his Facebook page, Schafer said he didn’t obtain the name of the intake official but believes she is a registered nurse. He states in his video he believes she acted inappropriately by suggesting his sexual orientation was responsible in some way for the depression he was experiencing at the time he entered the facility.
“You know, when she was saying those things I was very vulnerable,” he says on his posted video. “So it was very inappropriate behavior from her as a professional, especially in health care and especially in a mental or behavioral health setting,” he said in the video.
In response to an inquiry from the Washington Blade, Psychiatric Institute of Washington released a statement on Aug. 23 saying the hospital employee in question denied making the comments Schafer claimed she made to him.
“Hospital leadership is investigating the matter involving a single individual in the intake department,” the statement says. “We take all feedback seriously, and clearly would never condone the alleged statements attributed our employee, as they are inconsistent with our philosophy, operating principles and policies,” it says.
“Upon questioning, our employee denies that any such statements were made,” the hospital statement continues. “Nevertheless, we apologize that this patient reported a negative experience at our facility.”
The statement adds, “Despite a patient’s share of their personal information, PIW is not authorized to disclose details of patient care due to HIPAA patient privacy law, therefore cannot comment on any specifics.”
However, in response to an earlier question submitted to the hospital by the Blade, the statement says “we do not practice conversion therapy.”
In his posted video, Schafer said that following his encounter with the intake official he was worried that he might be subjected by the hospital to conversion therapy.
That practice has been debunked by professional mental health organizations, including the American Psychiatric Association, as being ineffective and having the potential to cause serious mental health problems.
Schafer told the Blade that in addition to the complaint he filed with the D.C. Office of Human Rights, he filed an internal grievance complaint with PIW and sent email messages to other government and private organizations informing them of what he claims was the discriminatory treatment he received as a patient as PIW.
Among the agencies he contacted about the PIW matter, he told the Blade, were the Office of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights, the D.C. Hospital Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the national LGBT organizations Human Rights Campaign and the Trevor Project.
Schafer also provided the Blade with a copy of an Aug. 17 letter he received from Psychiatric Institute of Washington responding to his grievance complaint with the hospital.
The letter, written by Dody A. McClain, the hospital’s Director of Quality Management, says McClain completed a thorough investigation into Schafer’s complaint. In a development that surprised Schafer, unlike the hospital’s statement to the Blade, the letter did not mention that the employee who’s the subject of Schafer’s complaint has denied making the statements Schafer alleges she made to him.
Instead, McClain’s letter to Schafer lists two specific actions it says the hospital has taken to “resolve your grievance.”
The first, it says, “Reviewed your concerns and provided feedback to the staff member involved and followed our performance management policies.”
The second action, the letter states, “Retrained the staff member on diversity/cultural competence.”
“I would like to take this opportunity to apologize that your experience at PIW did not meet your needs and expectations,” McClain states in his letter to Schafer. “Thank you for taking the time to report your concerns to PIW. We appreciate your feedback. Patient satisfaction is a top level priority for us.”
In its statement to the Blade, the hospital states, “PIW does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation. Further, PIW does not exclude people or treat them differently because of race, color, national origin, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation.”
In an email to the Blade, Schafer, however, pointed out that in its official nondiscrimination statement on its website, PIW lists only the groups protected against discrimination in federal law. He notes, as the Blade also observed on the PIW’s website, that the official nondiscrimination statement makes no mention of the broader list of protected categories under the D.C. Human Rights Act, including sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
PIW didn’t respond to a follow-up question from the Blade asking why the D.C. Human Rights Act’s broader list of protected groups are missing from the hospital’s nondiscrimination statement on its website as of early this week.
One local D.C. attorney who has represented clients who have filed discrimination complaints before the D.C. Office of Human Rights and who spoke to the Blade on condition of not being identified said it was uncertain how the OHR would act on Schafer’s complaint.
Since the complaint doesn’t accuse PIW of refusing treatment for Schafer and limits its concern with what Schafer says was inappropriate treatment by one employee, it’s unclear whether that could be considered a violation of the city’s Human Rights Act, the attorney said.
Under a longstanding policy, the Office of Human Rights never confirms it has received a discrimination complaint until it completes an investigation of the complaint and makes a determination of probable cause that discrimination occurred. At that point the office calls on the two parties to enter into negotiations to determine whether a settlement can be reached.
If a settlement cannot be reached, the OHR schedules an evidentiary public hearing similar to a trial in which the D.C. Commission on Human Rights acts as the jury and rules on whether discrimination occurred.
“So I just wanted to share my story and encourage people, again, that are dealing with depression on a day to day basis to continue to seek help, talk to your friends and family,” Schafer said in his Facebook video. “Again, but never let anybody like this individual put you down for who you are. Be proud of who you are, embrace who you are, love who you are. Equality has no room for discrimination or hatred.”