Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Doctors Were Real, the Patients Undercover

It had all the markings of a television detective show. Posing as patients, three undercover observers got themselves admitted as patients to a locked psychiatric ward to investigate conditions on the inside.

Each undercover patient had rehearsed an extensive back story, and the supposed family members who visited them were professional actors. A remote team monitored the project via hidden cameras and microphones from a command center in a nearby hotel.

The project, which took place this spring in De Gelderse Roos, a psychiatric complex about 40 miles from Amsterdam, was not a sting operation. The staff was told there would be mystery shoppers, of a sort, in the facility over a couple of months.

“We didn’t go in there like cowboys,” said Menko Soeters, a partner at Clearfields, a consulting firm that developed the project with De Gelderse Roos. “But we did use an unorthodox instrument for psychiatric care.”

Surrounded by manicured greenery, the closed-off ward of the complex, known as De Riethorst, recalls a suburban dental clinic, and its sunny gymnasium and carpeted hallways do little to suggest that it houses up to a dozen acute psychiatric patients, many of whom are there involuntarily.

And that is why the undercover participants were all experienced psychiatric nurses. “You couldn’t have done it otherwise,” said Edo De Vries, the director of De Gelderse Roos, which released the results of the project last summer.


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