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Will West Hartford's Justina Pelletier Ever Be Released?

Former Boston Children's nurse Kathleen Higgins says that 15-year-old West Hartford girl could remain in the custody of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families until she is 18.

Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo

Despite a Jan. 10 ruling suggesting that 15-year-old Justina Pelletier may be leaving Boston Children’s soon, a former nurse of the hospital says that may not be so.

Family and probate court Judge Joseph Johnston ruled on Jan. 10 that Justina Pelletier was to be transferred from Boston Children’s Hospital to another facility, provided that certain conditions were met.

The news was greeted by the Pelletier family with optimism.

But Kathleen Higgins, who for five years worked in Boston Children’s Hospital’s Bader 5 unit - the psychiatric ward where Justina is being held - said that she believes Justina could ultimately be transferred to foster care and held in custody of Massachusetts DCF until her 18th birthday.

In a letter sent to Olga Roche, commissioner of the Department of Children and Families, and Massachusetts Gov. Duval Patrick, Higgins warned that the ruling was not the clear-cut victory that the media (including Patch) have reported.

Specifically, Higgins, citing a Jan. 11 Boston Globe article, wrote that the conditions Johnston placed in the ruling have set the Pelletiers up for failure.

“Justina's return to her home state, and to her family, [are] contingent on her parents compliance with a ‘code of behavior’ issued by the court,” Higgins wrote. “One final ‘chance to prove themselves capable of caring for their daughter,’ per this Globe article. Transfer plans were vague.”

Higgins wrote that she believes that DCF will “declare that Lou and Linda Pelletier have continued to exhibit ‘behavior’ harmful to their daughter.”

In addition, Higgins said that it’s likely that no other hospital or facility will take Justina’s transfer because of either liability or the conditions set forth by DCF, via Boston Children’s.

“They’ll say the parents are difficult, they have lawyers and the media are involved,” Higgins said in a telephone interview. “They’ll say the facility doesn’t want to deal with the parents’ bad attitude, the lawyers and the media. That the behavior is interfering and threatening the discharge and care of their daughter. You had your chance, you blew it.”

The end result, Higgins believes, is that Justina will remain in DCF’s care until she is 18.

Higgins added that, since April 2013, she is aware of three other times that Justina was to be transferred from Boston Children’s Hospital to another facility.

None of those transfers ever happened, Higgins said.

“The reports of a victory for the Pelletiers has many concerned about the atmosphere of complacency that has quelled the outrage,” Higgins said. “ A wait-and-see attitude is both foolish and dangerous.”

While not yet a victory, Justina’s mother and father Lou and Linda Pelletier exited Edward W. Brooke Courthouse in Boston on Jan. 10 smiling at the news that Justina could, within a matter of weeks, be transferred from Boston Children’s Hospital to an unspecified transitional facility.

“The proof will be in the pudding in a few weeks,” said Lou Pelletier at the time.

Linda Pelletier added that she is "hopeful."

Justina, who had previously been diagnosed and treated by Tufts Medical Center doctors for the rare genetic disease mitochondrial disorder, has been in the custody of the Massachusetts DCF since February 2013, when she was sent to Boston Children’s Hospital for a bout with the flu.

Doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital reportedly disagreed with Justina’s diagnosis and instead diagnosed Justina with the mental illness somatoform disorder and charged her parents with medical abuse - forcing unnecessary treatments on the girl.

Higgins said that this isn’t the first case in which a hospital and Massachusetts DCF have been involved in terminating parental rights due to a disagreement over a child’s diagnosis.

But Higgins said that she was hopeful that attention drawn to the Pelletiers’ case could lead to a different outcome.

“This is the first case that we’re hearing of and we have an opportunity to change the ending of this story,” she said.

Boston Children’s, for its part, is under a gag order, but issued the following statement Friday: "The hospital does not keep patients in its care against the direction of the custodial guardian.”

The Boston Globe, citing two unnamed sources, reported that lawyers for the DCF “requested that the judge extend the state’s custody of Justina in such a way that her parents could not challenge it for at least six months. But the judge reportedly denied that request, choosing instead to maintain temporary custody with the state.”

Another hearing on the matter is scheduled for Feb. 4.
amystery726 January 15, 2014 at 07:32 AM
a lot of suppositions and hypotheticals. is this reporting or an editorial on behalf of the family? a lot of this "news" has been very one-sided and, even with the history of the hospital, not particularly unbiased.
Jenandjoan Jonsson January 15, 2014 at 08:22 AM
I'm much more interested in getting a CHILD out of a locked psychiatric facility, where she's been held for almost a year, than I am about who ultimately retains custody. Get her out of there first, then worry about everything else.
Mary Romaniec January 15, 2014 at 03:38 PM
This is not the first time BCH has done this. The pattern of abuse from this section of the hospital is known. Something has to change here.
Jayme Osborn January 16, 2014 at 12:34 AM
This is so crazy! How can parents be charged with medical abuse when they were just following the orders of their daughter's doctor? And would someone please mention the decline of this girl's health since she was taken into "custody" by the state? She doesn't even walk anymore. It seems to me that the charge of medical abuse has been put on the wrong party here.
druggedchild January 21, 2014 at 09:17 PM
PSYCHIATRY IS THE ABUSER,,,,, The use of 2 - point and 4 - point restraints and solitary confinement (“seclusion”) on psychiatric wards is particularly alarming and dangerous. The many psychiatric prisoners and survivors I’ve talked with describe the restraints as cruel punishment or torture. The restraints consist of thick leather cuffs or straps which are tied around the prisoner’s ankles and wrists and anchored to the sides of the bed. As result, the prisoner can hardly move while being forced to lie flat on his/her back for hours at a time, sometimes days with only brief restraint - free periods. Since physically - restrained prisoners are also chemically restrained by the powerful neuroleptics or antidepressants, they are doubly - restrained. A common staff reason for restraining prisoners is “control” or “management” of allegedly uncontrollable or disruptive prisoner behavior....
DonnaR February 19, 2014 at 09:35 AM
This amount of control by a state that she doesnt even live in is just insane. Thsi girl is now in a non medical step down and will not recieve the medical attention she needs to live. I that their end game. This could happen to you too. Call or write our Senators to move this allong. Chris Murphy at Chris@chrismurphy.com R Blumenthal at Senator_blumenthal@blumenthal.senat.gov.
MAC March 15, 2014 at 02:29 AM
Did you know that the infamous Donald Berwick is also a pediatrician, Adjunct Staff in the Department of Medicine at Children's Hospital Boston, and a Consultant in Pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital?!!............................................. Keep Justina and her family in your prayers:.............................. http://www.lifenews.com/2014/03/12/justina-pelletier-speaks-out-i-feel-like-a-prisoner/ ...“To hear Justina say she feels like a prisoner and wants to return home with her parents is heartbreaking,” Staver said. “DCF has abused its authority and hurt this family. DCF had no right to come between Justina and her parents. The parents love their daughter and were following expert medical advice in treating their daughter. Justina was doing well under the parents care. Now she is confined to a wheelchair. Justin loved going to school, but she has not seen her classmates or received any education in 14-months. This is a tragedy. Justina needs to be freed from her prison.”.................................................................................. Another hearing is scheduled for Monday, March 17, at the Juvenile Court........................................................................ “My goal is to get Justina home,” Staver concluded. [Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel]

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