A Mouse-Infested Psych Ward: Does No One Care About Crazy People?

mouse on pavement

The raging mouse infestation on the ward where I was recently hospitalized strikes me as something that wouldn’t be allowed to continue on a non-psychiatric unit, but I’m guessing that stigma stops anyone from paying attention to it happening on a psych ward. This is what I’ve come up with so far to email to the hospital communications department. What I’m still pondering is how to convey my plans for pursuing the issue if they don’t respond with action. I don’t want to sound threatening or ultimatum-ish, but I also want to convey that I have no intention of dropping the issue.

My plan if the issue doesn’t get addressed is to reach out to a local media outlet, the local branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the provincial politician representing my riding, the Minister of Mental Health & Addictions, and the opposition critic for that ministry. Any thoughts on how to hint at that without being obnoxious would be greatly appreciated.

Dear Sir/Madam:

I was recently an inpatient on 2 North at [name of hospital]. The last two nights that I was in hospital, March 29 and 30, 2022, I was unable to sleep, so I spent the night sitting in the ward’s patient dining room.

I was already aware that there was a rodent issue on the unit, as I had previously seen a mouse in the room I shared with two other patients. However, I was not prepared for the extent of the problem that I witnessed during those two nights that I was awake. I couldn’t even count the number of mice, there were so many of them. They were running around the dining room, through the halls, and in and out of other rooms. When I raised the issue with my treatment team, they acknowledged that there was a mouse problem but seemed to take an “it is what it is” view of the matter.

This ongoing unaddressed infestation is completely unacceptable. I can’t help but wonder if this problem exists to the extent that it does because 2 North is a psychiatric unit, and, as Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Powers so powerfully put it, no one cares about crazy people.

This issue needs to be addressed, and it needs to be addressed now. Many patients on psychiatric inpatient units like 2N are there involuntarily under the Mental Health Act, and I would like you to consider for just a moment how you would feel about yourself or a loved one being forcibly detained on a rodent-infested ward. My former co-patients may not be able to use their voices to speak up and be heard while they remain in hospital, but I can most certainly use mine. Those of us with mental illnesses deserve better than stigma, and I would encourage you to refer to the materials the Mental Health Commission of Canada has developed in regard to structural stigma (https://mentalhealthcommission.ca/structural-stigma/).

I would like to know exactly what steps [organization name] plans to take in order to remedy this situation and what follow-up will be done to evaluate the effectiveness of that remedy. I sincerely hope that patient voices will be heard as part of such an evaluation. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

I mentioned yesterday that I recognize that sending this kind of email in high dudgeon is not good for me, so this email isn’t going to be sent for a week at the very least. My level of dudgeon has already come down significantly since getting home, and I figure another week or two of reflection should be sufficient to remove any excess dudgeon. Actually, I’m feeling inspired to create a dudgeon-o-meter graphic to help check in with myself; that goes on the to-do list.

The post Cell Phones on Psych Wardsโ€”Yea or Nay? is the hub for all psychiatric hospitalization-related content on Mental Health @ Home.

Book cover: A Brief History of Stigma by Ashley L. Peterson

My latest book, A Brief History of Stigma, looks at the nature of stigma, the contexts in which it occurs, and how to challenge it most effectively.

You can find it on Amazon and Google Play.

There’s more on stigma on Mental Health @ Home’s Stop the Stigma page.

70 thoughts on “A Mouse-Infested Psych Ward: Does No One Care About Crazy People?”

  1. Ow. My! That’s bad!
    I hope you’ll be able to get them to take action, no one would want to stay in a rodent infested place… And they get to go home while the patients need to stay in that mess?
    Good luck ๐Ÿ€ I hope they’ll take it seriously. There must be something they can do on short terms to better the conditions of living there for the patients.

      1. Yes it’s something that should have been nipped in as soon as they became aware… You can’t tell me they don’t already know…. This makes me angry and sad, that they would force people to stay in such conditions. ๐Ÿ˜”

  2. Wow, thank you for sharing this. I really like how you talked about removing excess Dudgeon. I might try and monitor that in myself. I think your email is really well written and expresses the severe state and really the urgency of the matter as well. I think especially given that it is a ward for patients coming in often involuntarily and more than anything needing support and care not a rodent problem to deal with as well. In terms of how you could mention it not in an ultimatum sounding way- I would try and come up with some resolutions that you could suggest- or even provide contact information for someone who can deal with rodent control in the area. Then you would be offering some form of resolution as well- if they follow through.
    Sending so much love to you Ashley, I am happy to hear you are home with the piggos as well. <3

  3. I had this idea id doesn’t have to be about stigma. It may be because psychiatric patients are not seen as at high risk of infection from mice as patients with serious physical alignments may be and it kind of went unnoticed.

    Which obviously doesn’t make it ok – it’s just a thought.

    We had mice infestation at school when I was 9 and we thought it was hilarious so possibly my views are slightly different. When I was a child cats were often expected to deal with those issues ๐Ÿ˜›

  4. Ugh, that sounds awful and not at all conducive to getting better. I’m glad you’re speaking up. Do you think this can specifically be linked to impact on patient recovery/length of hospital stay/their own bottom line as well? I like the idea of a dudgeon-o-meter graphic ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Wow, that is shocking about the rodent infestation. I’m not surprised you’re furious! I hope this gets a positive and meaningful response, rather than a brush-off.

  6. I think it is well modulated. The thing is, a rodent infestation would most probably be building wide. Granted you can only speak to what you observed on your ward so perhaps toning down the specific references to mental health patients? I don’t think you have to offer pest control solutions because I’m pretty darn sure they either have “in-house” pest control equipment or a contract with an outside service. Your plan, if they don’t respond is a good one – local media – but I question how you would know if they actually take of the problem – talk is cheap. But then we shall have to wait for their response.

    1. It’s interesting, as that ward is on the floor above the emergency department. I can’t imagine that it would go un-dealt-with if the mice were running around down there. My guess is that they’re living in the walls and they like to come out and play in patient dining room. Most of the inpatient wards are in a relatively newer building.

      And I agree, I won’t know if they actually take on the problem, and talk is cheap.

  7. Well written Ashley with serious undertones that you won’t drop it.

    It disgusts me that it was allowed to get to the point of this infestation. Never mind that food is being cooked, served, stored and thrown out in that facility. It’s a health and safety matter.

  8. The letter is well-written. Not surprising since it’s coming from you. I wonder if you could not specific what your follow-up will be? That way you don’t have to commit and they don’t feel backed in a corner out of the gate. You could just put something vague like, “Please let me know your plan of action so that I can follow-up appropriately.”

    Just saying – it works in parenting because I don’t have to commit to something I might not want to carry out later on and often they imagine what the follow-up to be way worse than anything I could ever think of… ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. This is good Ashley… and I reckon if there are mice, then my thinking is that there may well be perhaps a cleaning problem…as mice only go where there is food. So perhaps left overs, or bits of food people drop on floor etc are not being cleaned up, therefore this is attracting the rodents.

    If there is nothing to eat… the mice will go.

    My suggestion is they should get in a few cats…

    The cats will be a source of comfort and will help with the mice problem.

    1. I think cats would actually work quite well! I think there absolutely is a cleaning problem, not because the staff aren’t working hard, but because the hospital has cheaply outsourced cleaning to an outside company, and individual workers are responsible for way more than they could possibly stay on top of.

  10. This email seemed effective to us: how you feel, unmet needs, and very specific request. Will you request an initial reply by x date before you consider other avenues for supporting patient health and dignity?

    Also, though itโ€™s a formality, we are neither a sir nor a madame. Maybe โ€œhospital operations managerโ€ or actually research who is in charge of physical plant?

    Thanks for representing vulnerable people


    1. That’s a good idea to come up with a reply by date. I was planning on giving them some time to do something about it themselves, but coming up with a specific date is a good idea. And I should figure out a specific person to send it to. I’d been thinking the communications department, but pinpointing a specific person is probably the best way to go.

      Thanks for your input. ๐Ÿ’•

  11. The letter is very well written and clear.

    Perhaps instead of saying “I would like to know exactly what steps {organization} is going to take…” – maybe suggest offering your time to connect with them and come up with solutions as a consumer of their mental health services.

    I know it means investing in a facility that doesn’t seem all that invested in their client welfare, but it does send a message that you are action oriented and invested on their behalf. It might actually set the tone that it is a serious concern, and motivate them to take action.

    Sometimes ya gotta join ’em to beat ’em (ie: get things done right), kind of thing.

    Or, it may just be that I am a complete idealist! lol ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. There’s nothing wrong with that email Ashley. I hope they reply reasonably back, reassuring about how they are fixing the issue.
    Something like that is not allowed over here. It wouldn’t be dreamt of.
    Can you remember when I went to a volunteer place for some months, which the travelling to that area, cos I never been there alone was out my comfort zone. But also, I never got my place, even though I had been checked and if you remember as well it took a while to get my ID, but new ones got their ID sooner as well as volunteer placement before I did? So left.

    Well there are different roles and one of those roles involves visiting mental health wards, inspecting wards with someone else, making notes of anything you see wrong. This is everything, to this, that light fittings don’t have dead flies in them, to general cleanliness and wear and tear of the wards for examples.
    While on there, they get to speak to patients if they want to, so they have a chance to say if anything is wrong with ward.

    Its not just that, but also patient experience as well when it comes to staff.

    I am guessing there is nothing like this over there?

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