That there above is a long-winded, legal-speak-laden rejection letter from Pilgrim Psychiatric Center on Long Island. I had applied for the release of all documents and files related to the hospitalization of Hall of Famer and African-American baseball legend King Solomon “Sol” White, who was institutionalized at and died in nearby Central Islip State Hospital in the 1940s.
The hospital, run by the New York State Office of Mental Health, cited legal and privacy reasons for rejecting my request. Here’s the last paragraph of the letter, which I received yesterday (June 23) and which was dated June 17:
“While it has always been our position that a person’s right to confidentiality of clinical information does not change upon his or [her] death, the federal regulations have given us some additional specific guidance on access to records of deceased patient[s]. Therefore to conform with both the Federal and New York State laws and OMH policy and procedure, we are unable to confirm or deny the existence of a record without a family member’s request or a NYS court order.”
The letter states a bit higher:
“It has long been recognized that the very fact of one’s mental illness, and receiving professional help for such illness, can, if generally revealed, cause a person to be subjected to prejudice and stigma in one’s personal and professional life. We also recognize that effective and lasting psychiatric therapy can take place only in an environment of privacy and trust in which the patient knows that his/her statements will be held in confidence.”
The letter is signed Deborah A. Strube, RHIA, Health Information Management Administrator.
A few thoughts here:
* First off, believe me, I personally understand how crucial privacy is to the recognition and treatment of mental illness and the stigma that, unfortunately, still comes with it in our society. I also understand that, because of various laws, the hospital administration very well could have been hamstrung, with nothing to legally be able to do but send this letter.
* Having said that, note how the administration didn’t just reject the release of the requested records, it declined to revealed if such records even exist.
* However, we know that, via the uncovering and piecing together of several documents (see this and this), that Sol White was committed to and did die at CIMH. We also know that he died from something fairly normal, especial for someone his age: pulmonary thrombosis. So that’s not too disappointing.
* But it doesn’t answer why White was hospitalized in the first place, which now, at this point, remains the big unknown. We also need to realize that this is the 1940s, back before the full development of modern psychiatric and psychological treatments, such as revolutions in therapy and medications. This is a time when someone could be hospitalized in a facility that was basically just a warehouse for people had become a mere inconvenience to the people in their lives.
* There is hope, however — John Thorn, Jim Overmyer and others have leads on possible living relatives/descendants of Sol White. If such people exist, they could provide a proper, legal and successful request for the records for which I asked.
* Still, and bottom line, this does not bode well for the release of documents pertaining to the hospitalization at Pilgrim hospital itself — which, decades ago, was often a house of horrors — of Cannonball Dick Redding, who, according to some sources, died there under so-called mysterious circumstances. But, as Gary Ashwill just noted to me, we were able to ascertain at least how Sol White died via alternate methods, so there perhaps is a glimmer of hope for Cannonball’s fate. On the other hand, if Redding did, in fact, die an unseemly death at Pilgrim, the state has even more to lose by divulging his records.