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Republican, The (Springfield, MA)

August 5, 2003

ServiceNet faulted for treatment

The Republican (Springfield, MA)

Edition: Hampshire/Franklin
Section: News
Page: B01

Index Terms:

Estimated printed pages: 4

Article Text:

NORTHAMPTON - A group of mental health advocates, many of them former clients of ServiceNet Inc., are taking the agency to task for its treatment of the mentally ill.

The Freedom Center, a loosely knit organization whose members have been diagnosed with various forms of mental illness, is planning a rally on the Hampshire County Courthouse steps 1 p.m. Friday to protest what it describes as "bureaucratic insensitivity" on the part of ServiceNet. According to Will E. Hall, a member of the group, the event will be a chance for clients and advocates to speak out about perceived problems at ServiceNet such as overmedication, intimidation by staff and a patronizing attitude toward the mentally ill.

The Freedom Center first addressed these issues in a letter to ServiceNet last fall, Hall said, but was not satisfied with the agency's response.

"We feel ServiceNet is basically doing damage control at this point," Hall said. "It's time for the voice of the people who are experiencing mistreatment to be heard."

ServiceNet chief executive officer Susan L. Stubbs said yesterday that she wants to have a dialogue with the Freedom Center, but the group has been vague about specifics.

"These people are just not willing to tell us what their complaints are," she said.

After doing her own research, Stubbs said she was able to identify and substantiate several problems at the Valley Inn, a rooming house on Locust Street that serves about a dozen clients. One staff member there did raise his voice to a client, and the facility lacks a telephone for use by residents, Stubbs acknowledged. She said the staff member has been disciplined.

Stubbs also said the building had been run-down, but attributed the problem to a former landlord who refused to make repairs. The building has since changed hands, and the new landlord has made improvements, she said.

Stubbs rejected as untrue the Freedom Center's assertion that ServiceNet prefers to medicate its clients rather than enable them.

"Empowerment is almost like a religion here," she said.

Although Stubbs has asked that the protest be reconfigured as a speak-out at which she would have the opportunity to address complaints, Hall said it will take place as originally planned. Stubbs is welcome to attend and talk individually with people, he said.

Fred Contrada can be reached at fcontrada@repub.com

Copyright, 2003, The Republican Company, Springfield, MA. All Rights Reserved. Used by NewsBank with Permission.
Record Number: MERLIN_2378582

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