For nearly 11 months, Justina Pelletier has been held, against her parents wishes, in a psychiatric ward at Boston Children’s Hospital after there was a disagreement regarding her diagnosis. The case returned to court Friday morning and it appears the teen will be moved to another psychiatric facility outside the Massachusetts hospital.
The controversial case of alleged medical child abuse, the reason why doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital recommended Massachusetts’ Department of Children and Families take temporary custody of the West Hartford, Conn., girl, spurred a national debate on such custody cases, the two diagnoses — somatoform disorder and mitochondrial disease — and parents’ rights.
Based on Berman’s tweets, which came from an unidentified source, Justina Pelletier will be moved from Boston Children’s Hospital to a new psychiatric facility. Another hearing with the state’s Department of Children and Families regarding her custody is set for Feb. 4.
On Facebook, Berman also elaborated that his sources said the judge seems to want Justina’s care to come through Tuft’s Medical Center, which is where her original physicians operated, and that the judge also seems to want the teen back in her home state of Connecticut.
Linda and Lou Pelletier, who have had limited visiting rights with their daughter for months, seemed hopeful after this decision, according to Berman’s tweets.
These are positive words after Katie Higgins, a nurse who recently filed a mandatory reporter complaint with DCF about Justina’s case and who says she has had contact with the girl’s parents, told TheBlaze that “the family is concerned that she’s dying.”
Though Higgins, who said she worked in a psychiatric unit at Boston Children’s Hospital in the mid-2000s, hasn’t seen Justina in the hospital, she said she was the family’s medical advocate until October.
“When you look at what’s the level of stress and what’s the level of support, [the hospital has] been ramping up the stress and leveling down the support,” Higgins said ahead of the decision made in court Friday. “When it comes to human psychiatric behavior, anyone in this field that is doing this certainly knows better. How can you not know that this is a recipe for this kid to totally lose it, and the family is concerned that she’s dying.”
Higgins clarified that the fear of the Pelletiers is that “she won’t make it through this; that she will die before the bureaucratic red tape gets [untangled].”
“What would happen to any of us under the duress of having our stress levels increased and our support system torn away? My fear is that they have taken Justina past the breaking point,” Higgins said.
The Pelleteirs had been treating their daughter for mitochondrial disease, a difficult to diagnose condition that impacts cells’ mitochondria function. When they were told by their doctor to bring Justina to Boston Children’s Hospital in December 2012 because she was sick, they were later told by physicians at this hospital that their daughter didn’t have mitochondrial disease but a psychosomatic disorder known as somatoform instead.
Because the parents still believed their daughter had mitochondrial disease and wanted Justina to receive treatment they believed she need for it, Boston Children’s Hospital got the state’s Department of Children and Families involved. Ultimately, a judge granted temporary custody of Justina to the department in February 2013 and she remained in the hospital’s care. It was something Lou Pelletier told WTIC was “kidnapping.”
“They were actually being accused of being too active in pursuing health care matters for their child,” West Hartford psychologist Dean Hokanson, who worked with Justina for five years, told WTIC in Nov. 2013.
In the months following custody of their daughter being taken, the Pelletiers have been fighting back.
Since the case received national attention, more parents who say they’ve had similar experiences with Boston Children’s Hospital have spoken out.
Boston Children’s Hospital issued this statement to WTIC-TV after Friday’s hearing:
Boston Children’s Hospital is deeply concerned by misinformation surrounding this case, but the hospital is unable to comment on specific patient care matters or any situation in which state child protective services is involved.
Boston Children’s role is to provide our patients with quality healthcare; we do not serve as the legal guardian of the patients in our care, nor are we affiliated with any state agency. The Hospital does not keep patients in its care against the direction of the custodial guardian. Our staff are dedicated professionals who provide the highest standard of medically necessary care to every patient.
Though Boston Children’s is required by state law to report cases of suspected child maltreatment to the Department of Children and Families (DCF), DCF is solely responsible for investigating reports of suspected child maltreatment and for deciding whether to go to court to request temporary custody of a child. The Hospital never decides who has custody of a child in any case of alleged child maltreatment.
We respect every family’s right to be heard by the judicial system. The Hospital appreciates that cases involving allegations of child maltreatment are emotionally difficult for all involved. We make every effort to treat the patients and families involved in these cases with compassion and respect, while focusing on the medical needs of the child involved.
TheBlaze contacted the Department of Children and Families for a statement on the recent court decision but has yet to hear back.
This post has been updated to correct the spelling of Beau Berman’s last name, which was incorrectly spelled Bergman. This post was also updated to include more information.