Update to the Five Fundamental Rights Bill: Fresh Air Bill Passed!

Handcuffs and ButterflyIn Massachusetts, there is a law called the ‘Five Fundamental Rights'. This law was implemented in 1998 as an amendment to the existing Massachusetts mental health laws. These rights are applicable to all residences and facilities that are operated, licensed or contracted by the Department of Mental Health (all psychiatric hospitals and residential programs, etc.).

For the last several years, advocates have also been pushing for a sixth fundamental right, often called the ‘Fresh Air’ bill. This bill has circled through the legislative process multiple times, but was finally signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick in January of 2015, just before he left office. This bill, and related advocacy, have focused on the importance of access to the outside and fresh air, even while hospitalized in an inpatient setting. The text of the amendment adding in the sixth fundamental right reads:

“Reasonable daily access to the outdoors as weather conditions reasonably permit at inpatient facilities in a manner consistent with such person’s clinical condition and safety as determined by the treating clinician, and with the ability of such facilities to safely provide access and regulations implementing sufficient precautions to ensure the safety of staff members charged with accompanying patients outdoors.”
 
Although this law is written in a way that leaves many loopholes to continue to deny people access to fresh air, it is seen as a victory by most people who have been fighting to see it implemented. Legislation to put ‘teeth’ into the ‘Fundamental Rights’ (i.e., put in place real consequences for hospitals and other facilities when they violate them) has been re-introduced in the new legislative session.
 
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In Massachusetts, there is a law called the ‘Five Fundamental Rights'. This law was implemented in 1998 as an amendment to the  existing Massachusetts mental health laws. These rights are applicable to all residences and facilities that are operated, licensed or contracted by the Department of Mental Health (all psychiatric hospitals and residential programs, etc.).

The five rights include:

For more information on these rights (and common violations of them), see the RLC article on this topic available by clicking here.

For the last several years, advocates have also been pushing for a sixth fundamental right, often called the ‘Fresh Air’ bill. This bill has circled through the legislative process multiple times, but was finally signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick in January of 2015, just before he left office. This bill, and related advocacy, have focused on the importance of access to the outside and fresh air, even while hospitalized in an inpatient setting. The text of the amendment adding in the sixth fundamental right reads:

Reasonable daily access to the outdoors as weather conditions reasonably permit at inpatient facilities in a manner consistent with such person’s clinical condition and safety as determined by the treating clinician, and with the ability of such facilities to safely provide access and regulations implementing sufficient precautions to ensure the safety of staff members charged with accompanying patients outdoors.”

The amendment further specifies that the Department of Mental Health “shall promulgate regulations defining what shall constitute reasonable access.

Although this law is written in a way that leaves many loopholes to continue to deny people access to fresh air, it is seen as a victory by most people who have been fighting to see it implemented. Legislation to put ‘teeth’ into the ‘Fundamental Rights’ (i.e., put in place real consequences for hospitals and other facilities when they violate them) has been re-introduced in the new legislative session.

Unfortunately, violations of the fundamental rights happens on a daily basis throughout the state, so it is important that we all stay educated about what our rights are so that we can inform others and file complaints as needed!