What you can do if you are admitted to a psychiatric facility against your will in Kingston, New York

What are your rights if you are involuntarily admitted to psychiatric facility or hospital against your will?  Your rights as a patient depend upon your status at the psychiatric facility. 

In New York, involuntary admission can take place in one of three ways.

#1: Medical certification, which requires that two physicians examine a person and certify that he or she needs involuntary care and treatment in a psychiatric facility.  This is known as a "two p.c.", which is shorthand for "two physicians certify".  The certification must be accompanied by an application for admission made by someone who knows the individual, such as a legal guardian, treating psychiatrist or someone who lives with the patient.

If you are involuntarily admitted on a medical certificate, or converted to that status, you may be kept in a psychiatric center for up to 60 days.  At the end of the 60 days, and periodically after that, the psychiatric center director must apply to a judge for authorization to retain you as an involuntary status patient. You have the right to be notified when such an application is made and you have the right to object and to be represented by the Mental Hygiene Legal Services or your own attorney at the hearing.

#2:  Certification by a director of community service, or an examining physician designated by the director of community services.  The certificate states that the person has a mental illess which is likely to result in serious harm to self or others and for which immediate inpatient treatment is appropriate.

If you are admitted in this way, you must be examined within 72 hours by a staff psychiatrist.  If the psychiatrist confirms that you meet the requirements for involuntary admission based on medical certification, you may be kept in the psychiatric facility for up to 60 days.

#3:  Emergency admission based on the claim that the person has a mental illness which is likely to result in serious harm to self or others and for which immediate observation, care and treatment in a psychiatric center is appropriate.

If you are admitted in this way, you must be examined by a staff psychiatrist within 48 hours. If the staff psychiatrist confirms that you meet the criteria for emergency admission, you may be kept in the psychiatric facility for up to 15 days.  A person admitted under the Mental Hygiene Law will be discharged from the psychiatric center after the person's treatment team has determined that the individual no longer needs inpatient care and treatment.

What you can do if you are admitted to a hospital against your will

The Mental Hygiene Legal Services provides legal services, including representation, for all matters arising from your hospitalization.  The staff members of the Mental Hygiene Legal Services are lawyers or social workers who have a legal background and their job is to help you understand and protect your rights as a patient.  If you object to being hospitalized, the Mental Hygiene Legal Services can arrange for you to have a court hearing before a judge, who will decide if you need to remain.

If you don't have a lawyer, the Mental Hygiene Legal Services can either represent you or get a lawyer for you. The Mental Hygiene Legal Services can also get a second psychiatric opinion. The Mental Hygiene Legal Services also helps patients investigate complaints of patient abuse and mistreatment.

All patients and their families have the right to communicate freely and privately with representatives of the Mental Hygiene Legal Services at any time and all services provided by the MHLS are free.  The names, office address and telephone numbers of MHLS representatives are posted at each psychiatric center and staff are required to provide this information to patients upon request.

Another option for patients is to contact the State Office of Mental Health at 1-800-597-8481, or the State Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, a statewide oversight agency, at 1-800-624-4143. 

What you can do if you have more questions

If you have questions about involuntary hospital admissions, you can call me on my toll-free cell at 1-866-889-6882 or you can send me an e-mail at [email protected] .  I welcome your comments or observations on this important issue.