FACILITY FAILING TO TREAT INMATES
Holding the razor in his mouth, Ernest Contrillo ran the blade over his
right wrist seven times as blood flowed from the crooked wounds.
It wasn't the first time he mutilated himself inside the Florida Civil
A year earlier in the center, Contrillo, 52, lost his left arm to a
gangrene infection he coaxed along by severing his flesh.
State records show that for four decades Contrillo had sought comfort in
pain, yet he managed to obtain razor blades and cut himself numerous times in
what's supposed to be a secure mental health facility for Florida's most
menacing sexual predators.
Since it opened in 1999, the center - created to treat men for their sexual
disorders after serving prison terms - has struggled to meet its most basic
mission, let alone deal with the medical needs of men like Contrillo.
After his arm was amputated, he spent 10 days in the hospital because
caregivers did not keep him on antibiotics.
In fact, a four-month review of monitoring reports, court cases and
internal documents show so many breakdowns in medical and mental care that
drugs often were dispensed without doctors' approval, men languished without
treatment, and in some cases, those with severe psychological disorders were
forced into solitary confinement - some never getting treatment for sexual
Gaps in care were often noted during state reviews, but problems continued.
One man was given a powerful antipsychotic drug even though he was not
diagnosed with a mental illness. Another was left in an infirmary for days
while urine in his bedpan collected mold.
``All I ever heard from everybody was that they were sexual predators. But
they're also human,'' said Beverly Babb, a former nurse who quit the center in
2004 after a year. Said Douglas Shadle, a psychiatrist who left because of
conditions: ``This is an asylum-era institution that has no place in this
Despite problems, state lawmakers repeatedly refused requests to adequately
fund the center. But they waived laws that require the civil commitment
facility to meet state medical and mental care standards.
Seven years later, those decisions have exposed the state to a class-action
lawsuit that places the entire program in jeopardy and exposes taxpayers to
millions in potential court fines, a Miami Herald investigation has found.
* For years, medical care has been plagued by shoddy record keeping,
failure to provide basic checkups, delayed treatment of serious illnesses and
potential violations of state and federal laws.
* Crucial medications, such as powerful psychotropic and cancer drugs, were
often not available or provided to residents without proper documentation.
* Records show the center's use of solitary confinement defies state and
* As the facility began filling up with mentally ill men, the private
contractor hired to run the center, Liberty Behavioral Health, asked the state
five times for more money and staff to provide psychiatric care. Each time,
the state balked.
* As the center's population grew by more than 300 percent, its funding
increased just 46 percent, leaving it to operate on a budget that's less than
half of those found at other mental health facilities in Florida.
* The facility's staffing levels are now less than half of similar programs
in other states.