By RICH MONETTI
In the wake of Virginia Tech, a college would not be criticized for exercising caution on re-admitting a student who was involuntarily hospitalized, attempted suicide within 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 herself open to be admitted to a hospital so the difficulties could be passed under supervision. Somehow in the discourse between the NYS Trooper and New York Presbyterian Hospital in White Plains, Pierce’s cry for help was miscommunicated 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, Pierce deferred in her own right. As such, Dr. Xiaolei Baran, the attending physician, initially wanted to discharge Pierce 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, Pierce 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, Pierce now refused medication.
“Dr. Baran’s response was nothing short of medieval,” Pierce asserts. “If you don’t take the meds, we’re going to propose Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT), and if you refuse ECT, we’re going to take you to court,” recollects Pierce Dr. Baran telling her.
Pierce did not go along and Dr. Baran re-diagnosed her suffering Schizoaffective Disorder (abbreviated as SZA or SAD), a mental disorder characterized by disordered thought process (called psychosis). “The staff then began to badger and harass Pierce in hopes of verifying Dr. Baran’s diagnosis,” advised Pierce. “I was tormented by questions trying to show I was paranoid.”
“They even forced me to shower with the door open to unhinge ny mind set,” contends Pierce.
“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,” pierce emphasized. “Dr. Baran also alleged I had a history of abusing alcohol and anti-anxiety medications,” contested Pierce. “She basically said I was a drug addict,” Pierce.
Of course, those in Pierce'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,” Pierce emphatically.
Nonetheless, Pierce was soon released returning to the medication regimen that her own doctor had previously prescribed. “Fordham University’s subsequent actions then added insult to injury,” shared Pierce.
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,” advised Pierce.
Fordham will not readmit Pierce without the total release of her medical records.
As such, Pierce’s lawyer, Andrea Risolo, Esq., does not diminish the seriousness of such an invasive action. “She has a right to privacy,” Risoli asserts.
Several semesters thereafter, Pierce seeks and awaits a compromise with the school through the Department of Education and the Office of Civil Rights. But Pierce’s vision extends beyond the injustice perpetrated on her. “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.
Pierce acknowledge the help of NYS Senator Greg Ball, and the letter he wrote to the Department of Justice on her behalf, as well as the attentiveness Representative Sean Patrick Maloney has given her case.
Rich Monetti has been a freelance writer since 2003. He lives in Westchester County.