Israel closes mental health unit over mass abuse scandal

Israel's health ministry said Thursday it would close down a private psychiatric institution after police hauled in 75 staff for questioning over widespread allegations of physical and sexual abuse of patients.

The announcement was made a day after police said they had questioned scores of staff members on suspicion of abuse and neglect at the Neve Yaakov facility near Tel Aviv.

"Seventy-five people from a hospital, Neve Yaakov, in Petah Tikva were called in for questioning, among them nurses, doctors and administrative personnel, on suspicion of negligence, abuse and sexual abuse of patients," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP.

The sweep took place on Tuesday morning when more than 200 police and investigators raided the privately-run facility and took many away for questioning.

Later in the day, 14 of the suspects were charged with physical and sexual abuse, Rosenfeld said.

Nine of them were still in jail and would have a second court hearing next week. The other five had been released to house arrest.

"The arrests came at the end of an undercover operation which has been going on for more than six months," Rosenfeld said.

The investigation began after the health ministry was informed that some patients were admitted to a general hospital with injuries consistent with assault, Haaretz newspaper reported.

Claims of abuse were also made by patients and former employees.

The ministry considered closing the facility six months ago following such claims, but decided to leave it open with increased supervision.

On Thursday, the health ministry decided to "close the institution" following "findings in the investigation," it said in a statement, without giving further details.

The Neve Yaakov facility, which reportedly treats 155 patients, is one of four private psychiatric hospitals in Israel that treat people suffering from mental illness who are considered incapable of being integrated into the community.

It is funded by the health and welfare ministries, which refer patients to it, and which both licence and supervise the facility.

"The supervision could not see all of what was going on, there were a lot of cover-ups," said Idit Saragusti of Bizchut, an advocacy group which supports people with disabilities.

Bizchut received several complaints about alleged misconduct and abuse at the facility and also alerted the health ministry.

"We feel that the fact that the institute is privately-managed contributed to what happened there, and made it difficult to supervise," Saragusti told AFP. "People who worked there wanted to complain, but the managers hushed it up."

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