Media Analysis: Corrupt Psychiatric Homes

Reed Jackson

In a yearlong reporting effort by New York Times’ writer Clifford J. Levy, more than 5,000 pages of annual state reports were drawn up and over 200 interviews were conducted to show the mistreatment of the mentally ill in dozens of privately run and state-regulated homes in New York City. The investigation found that the state’s own files over the years have chronicled a shocking array of disorder and abuse at many of the homes. Additionally, it discovered that the state has not kept track of what could be the greatest indicator of how corrupt the homes are: how many residents are dying, under what circumstances, and at what ages. 

Courtesy of the New York Times

I chose this piece because it’s a shining example of how an enterprise story can bring attention to an important issue that had previously been relatively unknown. Enterprise reporting goes beyond merely covering events. It explores the forces shaping those events. The Time’s investigation produced the first full accounting of deaths of adult home residents. At 26 of the largest psychiatric homes in the city, The Times documented 946 deaths from 1995 through 2001. Of those, 326 were of people under 60, including 126 in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s.

At two of the biggest homes that the Times analyzed, Leben Home in Queens and Seaport Manor in Brooklyn, a quarter of the residents who died were under 50. The analysis of the deaths used Social Security, state, court and coroner’s records, as well as psychiatric and medical files.

The piece illustrates how some residents died roasting in their rooms during heat waves. Others threw themselves from rooftops, accounting for at least 14 suicides in the seven-year period from which the data was collected. The most stunning statistic, however, showed that most of the accounted deaths succumbed to routinely treatable ailments, which demonstrates the lacking of the most basic care that was occurring.

Levy’s piece is very well written and highly detailed. In addition to using a variety of useful facts and interviews, Levy also details the deaths of certain individual patients, which creates a more personal and intimate experience for the reader. For example, the death of Randolph Maddix, a schizophrenic who lived at a private home for the mentally ill in Brooklyn, is detailed in a tragic manner as he was dead for more than 12 hours before an aide finally checked on him.

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