Effectively Advocating for Change: The Use of Consulting Experts to Advocate for Positive Change for Individuals Receiving Psychiatric Care

Melissa Cyril, Molly Paris, J.D., and Karen Kirby, RN, MSN

Disability Rights Florida (DRF) is the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy (P&A) system for the state of Florida. The P&A system is a nationwide network of disability rights agencies created by Congress to protect the human and civil rights of individuals with disabilities. DRF’s advocacy efforts take place in a variety of settings including, but not limited to, hospitals, nursing homes, community facilities for individuals with mental illness, board and care homes, jails, prisons and community housing, such as group homes and other treatment centers.

In order to enhance its advocacy efforts, DRF frequently engages outside experts such as nurses, psychiatrists, security experts, trauma specialists, to work with its advocates and attorneys in order to effectively negotiate for change. For example, DRF engaged a nationally known epidemiologist to assist with monitoring efforts at our state operated inpatient psychiatric hospitals to assess COVID 19 related safety practices and make recommendations accordingly. DRF also engaged an LCSW with a specialty in trauma during efforts to reduce the use of restraints at a child psychiatric residential facility.

Melissa Cyril, DRF Rights Training and Outreach Coordinator, Molly Paris, DRF Senior Staff Atorney, propose to present at this presentation about the use of such experts, outside of the litigation context. We would also like to include on our panel Karen Kirby, RN, MSN, who has consulted with DRF on several serious abuse and neglect investigations and accompanied DRF staff on monitoring visits to assess health and safety of individuals receiving psychiatric care.

The following are the proposed goals and objectives of this presentation:

  • Address how to identify which types of advocacy efforts could be enhanced by the engagement of an expert.
  • Discuss the various advocacy activities experts can assist with e.g. reviewing records, interviewing individuals receiving care, educating advocates and atorneys on areas related to their expertise, conducting site surveys, providing evidence-based recommendations.
  • Provide examples of expert agreements that address scope of work, deadlines, confidentiality of information and final product expectations.
  • Discuss how experts, advocates, and atorneys can work together to integrate evidence-based recommendations with legal requirements as a method of initiating change to protect and enhance civil rights of individuals receiving psychiatric care.