Four staff members of a psychiatric hospital outside Jerusalem were convicted on Thursday of various offenses in connection to the alleged abuse of autistic patients at the facility on numerous occasions between 2001 and 2004.
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The case, relating to incidents at the Eitanim-Kfar Shaul Mental Health Center, was tried in the Jerusalem District Court, under Judge Zvi Segal.
Dr. Daniel Meir, a child psychiatrist who was the head of the government hospital's autism ward at the time, and Dana Ben-Meir, the ward's head nurse - were found guilty of several counts of abusing the helpless and vulnerable.
One of their codefendents, Dr. Jacob Margolin, the director of the hospital at the time, was convicted of patient neglect. Margolin has since resigned, but he is still to be officially suspended and, in the wake of this conviction, the Health Ministry is expected to review his professional status.
The fourth defendant, Na'ama Dokshitsky, the hospital's head nurse at the time of the events, was convicted of patient neglect.
Two other junior staff members were acquitted in the case.
An additional three junior employees were convicted of less serious offenses more than four years ago in the case and sentenced to probation and community service.
In the course of the trial, 11 instances of severe abuse and neglect of patients with autism were examined. These included forbidding a patient to talk for a number of hours each day, as a punitive measure, and withholding treatment from a patient during his epileptic seizures on the grounds that he was "bluffing." The bruises of another patient, the result of his frequent falls, went untreated, while a patient who frequently banged his head on the wall, a common behavior in people with autism, was not given a helmet to prevent head injury, again on the grounds of "bluffing."
Other patients were forced, variously, to work while standing and be kicked by staff members; to eat on the floor, under the table; to remain in urine-soaked clothes for long periods of time; and, in the case of a patient who suffered from violent outbursts, to remain in a small, unventilated room for most of the day.
In his verdict, Segal stressed that the convictions did not necessarily account for all of the offenses committed by the defendants, which in some cases met the criteria for unethical behavior but not the higher standard needed to prove criminal liability.