The Hungarian government and transparency: The case of the mentally disabled

On April 18, 2017, Pablo Gorondi, Budapest correspondent for the Associated Press, reported that the Mental Disability Advocacy Center (MDAC), after visiting Topház Otthon (Top House Home) in Göd, 30 km from Budapest, a state-run institution for people with mental and physical disabilities, called for the closure of the institution. They uncovered signs of ill-treatment and malnutrition in the run-down facilities of the institution that houses 220 children and adults. Steven Allen, the group’s campaign director, said that “the conditions, abusive practice and evidence of violence … are the result of systematic failings in law, policy and regulation and a lack of effective and independent monitoring.” The report also pointed out that, according to the Central Statistical Office, there are some 25,000 people in Hungary with intellectual disabilities and mental health issues who have been placed in state institutions. The Hungarian government estimates that it would take 19 years to move these people to smaller homes. In addition to Gorondi, Nick Thorpe of BBC also filed a report about the “shocking conditions” found in the “home,” although he attached the opinion of an official of the Office of the Commissioner for Equal Rights who claims that “Topház is an extreme case.”

Of course, we have no idea whether this is really true since gaining access to these facilities is extremely difficult. Instead of going into the details of the terrible conditions found in all the wards MDAC visited, I will concentrate on the difficulties MDAC encountered in trying to gain access to Topház. Given the reluctance of the officials in charge of these facilities, they must be well aware of the conditions inside the walls of these institutions. Otherwise they wouldn’t prevent monitoring teams from entering the premises. Moreover, it is unlikely that Topház is an extreme case because investigative journalists over the years have called attention to similar problems at other facilities.

From the descriptions I read, the problems are systemic. One problem is that these institutions are regarded as “warehouses away from the public gaze,” as MDAC’s report aptly described their function. The mentally disabled are put there to be out of sight until they die. And they die with great frequency. When the associates of MDAC arrived, there was a black flag flying alongside the Hungarian national colors. What happens to those who die without a family to pay for a funeral I have no idea, but I was struck by the story a local told the reporter of Magyar Nemzet who visited the town after the release of MDAC’s report–that one of the employees of the institution became so attached to a patient that she herself took care of the funeral arrangements.

The facility, an old mansion, is ill-suited to its present function, and one doubts that any renovation has taken place since 1978 either inside or outside. Apparently, the size of the staff is totally inadequate, which results in confining people to their beds with all the adverse effects of such confinement. Psychiatric counseling is not available on site. The patients’ dental hygiene is deplorable. One could go on and on. All in all, the Hungarian state simply doesn’t spend enough money to maintain decent facilities for the mentally disabled.

The poverty of these institutions raises a vexing question. Topház and other similar institutions have received financing from European structural and investment funds administered by the Hungarian government. MDAC recommended that the European Commission’s European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) open an audit and investigation into a breach of fundamental rights in the use of European funding. Considering the amount of corruption in Hungary, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some of the money that was supposed to be used to improve the facilities and the lives of their residents ended up in the pockets of those handling the funds.

Back in 2014 Index received permission to visit Topház where they found close to idyllic conditions. The patients were taken for excursions in the nearby forests, and physical therapists were working with some of them. The dining room was spotless and the children well dressed. Today they realize that the “show” was most likely organized for their benefit. With the exception of a few prearranged visits, Topház as well as all other facilities are closed to outsiders. For example, MDCA began their quest to receive permission to visit the premises on June 26, 2016. At that point, the director of Topház “expressed openness to collaborate” but two days later withdrew the invitation. It seems that the Directorate-General for Social Care and Child Protection (Szociális és Gyermekvédelmi Főigazgatóság/SZGYF) forbade him to allow MDAC’s visit.

After the initial denial MDAC wrote to the director of SZGYF seven times between July 1 and September 9, 2016. Then, on October 20, MDAC wrote to Károly Czibere, undersecretary for social affairs and social inclusion in the ministry of human resources, asking for a personal meeting. They received no answer. So, on November 3, MDAC wrote to Zoltán Balog, head of the ministry, with copies to the Hungarian ombudsman and the Fidesz MP who chairs the parliamentary committee on persons with disabilities. This letter was also sent to a number of MPs in the hope that one of them would be willing to accompany the staff of MDAC to Topház since MPs have free access to such facilities. In theory, at least.

Bernadett Szél (LMP) agreed to go along, but when the group arrived in Göd, the deputy director of SZGYF, accompanied by the new director and the head nurse of the facility, were at the gate. They refused to let the monitoring team in. After Szél made a telephone call to the deputy undersecretary for social policy, the MP was allowed in for a short time while the monitoring team waited for her outside the gate.

In February 2017 permission was at last granted. After several preliminary visits, the MDAC team spent a whole day, April 18, 2017, inside the facility with “minimal supervision.”

Not even the presence of MP Bernadett Szél was enough to let MDAC enter the facility

Unfortunately, this is not the end of the horror story. Although the ministry of human resources, after reading MDAC’s report, suspended the director of the facility and promised that the facility would be closed as soon as possible, Zoltán Balog didn’t think the case needed his special attention. MDAC’s request to meet with him was denied. He sent Károly Czibere, undersecretary for social affairs and inclusion, to meet them–of all places–in front of the parliament building. He declined MDAC’s request to live stream the meeting, but he did promise access to the other facilities. However, “Mr. Czibere stressed that there would be ‘conditions’ to such access.”

The official state propaganda machine, Magyar Idők, chimed in on the incident. The first article, published yesterday, did say that the ministry of human resources had admitted “extremely bad conditions” in the facility, but the author felt compelled to point out that MDAC had been founded in 2002 by–drum roll–George Soros’s Open Society Foundation. The paper also reported that several relatives of the patients had “rejected the accusations” in social media, and the paper managed to find a mother who spends three days a week at the facility. She testified that the employees of the facility have the best interests of the children in mind and there is not the slightest sign of neglect. So, reads the headline, “Is this a new smear campaign against our homeland?”

Magyar Idők’s second article, published today, was even more accusatory. This time the journalist said that MDAC’s visit was illegal and complained that the monitoring group should have gotten in touch with the ombudsman instead of snooping around the facility and “releasing information and pictures to The New York Times.” (In fact, the NYT simply republished the AP report I referenced at the beginning of this post.) In order to minimize the gravity of the situation, the author spent about half the article on a 1998 report of the ombudsman which pointed out that even at that time “the number of staff members is inadequate; the children don’t receive toys; there are too many beds with high railings; and the patients are overmedicated.” Finally, he repeated the claim that since one of the supporters of MDAC is Soros’s Open Society Foundation, “it is possible that—even if the charges are well founded—the goal is the disparagement of Hungary.”

This case is living testament to the necessity of having NGOs like MDAC, without which we would have known absolutely nothing about the dreadful conditions in Topház. As it is, the Hungarian government did its best to prevent us from ever learning about the true state of affairs in one of the state-run facilities for the mentally disabled.

May 6, 2017
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Melanie Zuben
Guest

Roderick Beck and Winston – re: name calling from previous post

I’m NOT writing under a pseudonym, therefore I’m asking you for the last time to withdraw your malicious, vindictive comment regarding my character. I demand an apology. I do believe that calling people “anti-Semite” is a very serious allegation and it should NOT be taken lightly.

Guest

Just try to remember some of your comments here – or were they all just “jokes”?
Would you like tobe in an institution like topház, being chained to your bed? Just imagine …

Melanie Zuben
Guest

Wolfi,
Once and for all, I’m asking you to list my “anti-Semitic” comments on this (or any other) blog in the last six years. Oh, and while you are busy doing it, would you please restrain yourself.

old1956
Guest

Melanie seems to me just a decent Hungarian, and a victim of narrow traditions. It is the same with most tribal Jews.

Wolfi, Petofi, and many of us are from a different place. We are enlightened non-traditionalists.

Guest

Explain this:
petofi,
If I had “10 billion stucked away somewhere” I would’not be “nervous”. I would make YOU “nervous”. 🙂

petofi
Guest

Melanie,

It bothers me not a whit what others have. I have avoided envy of others–probably due to some judicious reading in my youth (Lao Tzu; Montaigne;
Shakespeare et.al.)

My problem with Orban’s stolen billions is that it serves as a template for younger Hungarian politicos…much as Manafort’s 10yr/100 million contract was intended by Pyutin (for American politicos). Pyutin has trampled Civility under the weight of all the gold he’s flinging about. Witness the Republican Party and the risible creatures who have floated to the top like so much flotsam and jetsam–

Melanie Zuben
Guest

Petofi,
Do you have proof for his stolen billions?

Ferenc
Guest

Melanie, in a real constitutional state I fully agree with your question for proof, but unfortunately I can not consider Hungary to be such.
So I like to turn around your question: Can you proof that Meszaros Lorinc got his current wealth in a fair way and fully independent of Orban and his party?
After you have shown me your poof, I will excuse me for all my previous assumptions otherwise and even support you and the ones you are supporting.

petofi
Guest

Oh, oh, Melanie. Now you sound like a KGB troll…

Guest

I never said you wrote an “anti-Semitic” comment here – but you wrote a lot of non-sensical and aggressive stuff and even outright lies, some of which you had to retract because they were too obvious!
Like O being elected by a two thirds majority of voters …
CharlieH collected some of them two years ago – wanna see?
“Every morning I read the Hungarian Spectrum, the kuruc-info etc.”

“…asked you specifically to stop playing with your you -know- what, as it can cause serious blindness”

“haHve you ever been in bed with a flea?”

“and why don’t you stop playing with your thingilingi?There is a huge possibility that doing it long enough, it may cause you blindness.”

“Always the stronger dog f<**s!"

"…maybe it’s time for some western dogs to take a rest from the humping or a nice German Shepherd could bite of his thingilingi."

"Whilst the Oh So Birghts are busy with “creative destruction” the “not so brights” -like myself- are studying the Bible. There is not much we can do. For now, that is."

"..systematic sh#t stirring."
Is that enough for a psychoanalysis?

Melanie Zuben
Guest

Wolfie,
Thank you soooooooooo much for listing my brainy quotes. Needless to say, I’m very proud of them.
BTW, whatever happened to “CharleH” your number 1 attack dog? Did the Russians take him out or something? 🙂

Guest

No, he had enough of your crazy rantings!

Guest

Btw, your writing and/or comprehension skills seem a bit off lately …
It’s funny – every post of yours brings me memories of Miami Beach and Wolfie’s restaurant (Jewish, but not kosher …) and others that I’ve visited.

But I’m not a Jew (though some of your crazy brothers in mind have given me that honour) so you might try to spell my name correctly – didn’t you get angry when someone called you “Zubin”?

Of course every site needs a court jester like you …

petofi
Guest

(What about 6 years ago and more…?)

Melanie Zuben
Guest

Petofi,
Not ever! (God blessed me with a beautiful soul.) BUT, you are very welcome to start digging . . . by all means: Enjoy your research! 🙂

Member

Melanie Zuben,
I apologize for calling You an anti semite.

Member

Winston, don’t get too smitten with remorse. Yes, it’s (probably) her real name: it’s the name she promotes her Amazon offerings under. But those of us who have been witnessing her graffiti for years know that she is not only a barefoot apologist for the regime and all things Turul in Hungary (not a troll: a true believer) but periodically (cyclically?) she becomes extremely vulgar.

Melanie Zuben
Guest

Stevan Harnad,
Don’t throw me to the wolves! I tell you a secret: they come when I call. 🙂

Melanie Zuben
Guest

Stevan Harnad,
Just because I happened to describe the birthday cake (giant d*ck on a top of the cake) of an “enlightened non-traditionalists” liberal thinker, does NOT make me “vulgar”. I’d rather call myself “witty” or perhaps “the grand master of satire”. My “graffiti” must be pretty good if it upsets you this much.

Guest

So let me continue in your satirical vein:
Is this what you just described maybe what you really are in need of?
Then you might be happy and leave us alone?

Melanie Zuben
Guest

Wolfie, here we are again: please do NOT attack the messenger. I am one of the lucky ones whose “need” was (and will be) always met. I never had to organise a d@ck in a cake form to get some sweetness into my exciting life. But that’s just me.

Melanie Zuben
Guest

Thank you.

Ferenc
Guest

Found some additional background info about Tophaz:
MDAC full info: http://www.mdac.org/en/tophaz (click image on the page for the full 31pgs report)
Old (2012) archived official page about Tophaz: http://www.pmik.hu/index.php/vintezmenyek/szocialis/84-szocialis-intezmenyek/136-tophaz-specialis-otthon (giving info and pictures about the institution and the people living there)
Actual official website of Tophaz: http://tophazotthon.hu/ (shiny page, but only contact info and a sort of “pricelist” for their services)

Ron
Guest

Please find an interview with then/current? Director with the local TV channel on youtube from 2012. It is about 50 min. from 11 minutes footage of the inside of the otthon.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5IBt8XRpWHI

also a 2012 Rotary youtube film.

Ferenc
Guest

Seems circumstances (on video at least) were better than now. Will not be surpised if in the coming days/weeks reports pop-up with complaints from the people working in such institutions about irresponsible cuts in funding in the last 3-5 years.

Ferenc
Guest

Status report of care for people with mental and physical disabilities (2010-17):
Actions taken by the government and it’s institutions:
-using of EU funds,
-updating websites
Improvements in care for the people with mental and physical disabilities:









[empty]
This is what real journalists should investigate and publish.
If Magyar Idok wishes to be seen as real journalism, they should publish a ‘long read’ listing all improvements in this matter coming out of the policies of the current government: a blank page.

Istvan
Guest
I think Eva should have linked this essay to an earlier essay she wrote on the problem of breaking up large institutions for the disabled in Hungary. That essay can be read at http://hungarianspectrum.org/2013/09/22/hungarians-attitude-toward-the-disabled-not-in-my-backyard/ The problem of deinstitutinalization is not limited to Hungary, it extends to numerous countries in the former Soviet block. It even exists within the USA as I discussed in a post yesterday. There is little question that the Swedish practice of “normalization” of the living/support situation of people with disabilities in society is both the most cost effective approach and for the disabled people their best chance to be provided appropriate supports. They are no longer out of sight and mind of the nation. One the things Hungarian fellows here in Chicago learned about through the US State Department supported Professional fellows program in the area of disability was the importance of community organizing among people with disabilities themselves. (See http://glc-teachdemocracy2.org/ ) They learned about militant groups of disabled people like ADAPT in the USA and our own legacy here of segregation of people with disabilities. They even met family members of significantly disabled people who wanted their disabled children and relatives to remain largely in… Read more »
wrfree
Guest

Re: attitude to mentally disabled

Appears to go along with the not very adventurous view of attempting to provide a most attentive application of good health care to the population in order for them to have a good quality of life. But it would seem in both applications the state’s supposed mandates to provide aid with its ‘interference’ just exacerbates the ills further on the population. Would look to be a situation such as ….’Physician, heal thyself’ before entertaining any idea of dealing with the healing arts.

And it is incredible to see how a Magyar internal issue gets to be an opportunistic pawn in the barrage of disparagement directed against their enemies. And time to check the Magyar ‘Health Care-No Care coffers’. It is apparently a relentless drip drip drip of monies repeatedly distilled away.

Guest

Totally OT:

Vive la France!

At least the French know the difference between a democrat (whether he is liberal, socialist or conservative …) and a fascist – even her late ramblings about nor really wanting to leave the EU didn’t help Marine.
Now how would that have been handled in Hungary where the Illiberals are in power?

PS:
And my relatives in Northern Germany also showed their ideas of democracy – around 5% for the Communists and the German “Jobbik” AfD each.
Though I don’t understand (too far away from them) why so many of them voted for the CDU, I’m also happy that the Greens and the Liberal FDP made it into parliament again!
See the difference to the Balkan (and that includes Poland and Hungary imho – not in geopgraphy but in spirit)?

aida
Guest

You are so right.

The English suffer from flawed judgment. Repeatedly. At the time of Napoleon they supported the Crowned heads of Europe. They bought a blockade and a long war. For what?
They put up with Hitler when any child could have told them the shit should be destroyed. They lost their empire in the process. They would have lost the country to the Nazis if Churchill, who was half American, had not stood firm. Also if the US had not rescued them.
The French have a respect for freedom and democracy. Vive la France

petofi
Guest

I guess that the Russkiys had something major to do with Brexit; but their real case was the US–grand successes for them on both.

Observer
Guest

Vive la France! Vive l’Europe! Vibe le progrès!

Another kokki to Orbàn, but why are there so many dummies and fascists in this country? Why are they going east while the civilized world is going ahead?
Europe/Brussels will not stop, Hungary is sliding backwards into darkness and poverty.

Member

Congratulations Wolfi!

wrfree
Guest

Re: Viva la France

Nice to see ‘ liberte , egalite and fraternite’ coming roaring out of the closets once again. Vlad will have to wait sone more. Nice riposte to all the Marines out there banging on the drums.

While they’re at it get some copies on the Magyar Parliament windows and doors. For the last couple of years really it really has only been a place to grab a bite for lunch.

Observer
Guest

This shocking small episode is so telling about the inhuman nature of Orban’s fascist cleprocracy where hundreds of billions are stolen every year from the poor wretches and dupes in this country.

“Assault on our country” ? Sure, give me a rifle to join the assault agains the Orban mafia emaciating and rotting this country.

Guest

Good news. The EU flag will not be removed from French government buildings.

Isn’t it time to for the Hungarian parliament to fly it again?

Guest

Why?
Don’t you remember the Fidesz motto re the EU:
We’re only in it for the money!

I can’t eat as much as I want to throw up when I drive by those Fidesz/Brussels billboards …

Member

Not yet as it seems.

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