Italy: Fatal beating of psychiatrist sparks reforms outcry

Rome: The fatal beating of a hospital psychiatrist, allegedly by a former patient, has sparked calls in Italy to improve mental health care.

Police on Sunday arrested a 35-year old Italian man for investigation in the attack on Dr. Barbara Capovani.

The psychiatrist, 55, was beaten repeatedly with a metal bar on the head Friday when she left work at a hospital in Pisa, northern Italy. On Sunday, doctors at the same hospital declared her brain-dead, and her organs were being donated.

Investigators said her attacker was a former patient who later insulted her on social media, and who had had numerous brushes with the law, including beating a doctor in another northern town.

The attack on the psychiatrist was the latest in a series of violent assaults on hospital staff in Italy in recent months.

Citing her slaying, Italy’s health minister on Monday called a huddle later in the week to move ahead with reforming mental health care.

Over the last months, the health ministry already began work on how to reform mental health care procedures, Health Minister Orazio Schillaci said in a written statement. “We must work so what happened to Barbara Capovani doesn’t happen again,” Schillaci said.

Under a 1978 law, Italy closed down psychiatric hospitals and made all psychiatric treatment voluntary, with very few exceptions. Critics say the legislation envisioned a network of neighborhood public health facilities to deliver mental health care, but that never fully developed.

According to police, citing surveillance video footage, the alleged attacker waited for the doctor to leave the hospital, but when he didn’t see her, returned the next day. When she left and was leaning down to unlock her bicycle to ride home, the man beat her head bloody, inflicting fatal injuries.

Health ministry officials thanked her family for allowing her organs to be donated. Colleagues at the Pisa hospital described Capovani, the mother of three children, as very open, sweet, serious and willing take on new patients.

Among incidents in the last year or so was a machete attack on a doctor leaving a Milan area hospital; a psychiatrist in the northern city of Mantua who was beaten with a stick after she deemed a woman didn’t need hospital admission; and a doctor at a Naples area hospital who was kicked and punched by relatives of a patient demanding a medical certificate.