A report by Yle's investigative journalism unit MOT has revealed serious shortcomings in the treatment of people with intellectual disabilities at some facilities around the country, and a failure by management or authorities to prevent the mistreatment.
MOT reviewed a total of 64 cases related to the use of restrictive measures which had been referred to Regional State Administrative Agencies (Avi) and to the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health Valvira. In 56 of the cases, the measures used were criticised.
In one case, from a mental health facility run by private social and healthcare provider Mehiläinen in the city of Hämeenlinna, a young male resident was continually restrained by being tied to a chair with duct tape. He was also tied to his bed at night.
One employee, who wished to remain anonymous, told MOT that workers were instructed to prevent the boy from hurting himself by restraining him by any means possible.
"The boss's instructions were to tie him to the chair with duct tape, which was just awful," the worker said. The practice of restraining the boy in this manner continued for about five years, until it ended in 2019 after a doctor visited the facility and discovered its use.
The underage patient — who suffers from severe autism as well as an obsessive-compulsive disorder — was also subjected to physical abuse over the course of a number of years.
This included one male former worker sitting on the boy to stop him from hitting his head against a wall, and a former female worker hitting him in the face on two separate occasions in 2016. She was later ordered by a court to pay 50 income-linked day fines.
The male worker was not reprimanded for his actions, which employees interviewed by MOT said was just one of a number of different violent acts committed by the man against the underage resident, even though management were aware of the incidents.
Employees of the unit reported grievances to local authorities, bypassing Mehiläinen's senior management after repeated failures on their part to act. The private provider admitted to MOT there had been failures in the treatment of the boy.
Whistleblowers considered "awkward" by management
Former workers interviewed by MOT described trying for years to highlight the issues at the facility, including escalating complaints on several occasions to both the regional Avi and the city.
When attempts were made to resolve grievances with management, the interviewees said, the result was often only a reprimand for the employee raising the issue.
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Several interviewees also reported that "awkward" employees knew in advance that making a complaint would lead to management making their working life very uncomfortable.
"There was a kind of threat that if you don't do this or that, the manager will not be flexible, for example by not agreeing to shift list requests. So you really have nothing to hope for. It was such an incredible humiliation," one worker said.
Other interviewees reported being issued with inappropriate warnings.
When talking to the unit’s management led nowhere, some employees also raised concerns with occupational health or other units.
However, they later discovered that information provided during the supposedly-confidential meetings ended up with management.
Sari Vuorilampi, a senior inspector with Valvira, told MOT that she is "shocked" by the boy's treatment.
Tying him to a chair with duct tape was a completely illegal restraint measure, she said, adding that the use of the practice at the facility requires further investigation.
"This is really sad. It is completely inhumane from the perspective of people with intellectual disabilities and indeed from the perspective of just about anyone," Vuorilampi said, adding that this seems like a matter for the police.
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MOT also approached Mehiläinen — which took over the running of the facility in 2015 — as well as the former owner.
Mehiläinen did not wish to be interviewed for the story but the company's Quality Control Manager Mikko Purhonen responded to questions by email. The former owner did not reply to MOT's request.
"We apologise for what happened," Purhonen wrote. "Corrective measures have been taken in cooperation with relatives and the city more than two years ago and the activities of the unit are closely monitored."
He added that changes to the unit were made after the 2019 assault conviction.
"Extensive corrective measures have been taken: the people involved in the situations no longer work in the unit, the management of the unit has been strengthened and guidelines and operating models have been reviewed more effectively," Purhonen wrote.