Cuba hands out sentences in mental hospital deaths

More than a dozen employees and officials of Cuba's largest mental health hospital have been convicted of negligence and other charges in the deaths of 26 patients during a cold spell last year.

They received prison sentences ranging from 5 to 15 years in prison — even more than prosecutors had requested — according to a communique read out on state-television Monday.

Among those found guilty was hospital director Wilfredo Castillo Donate, who was sentenced to 15 years for abandoning disabled people and misappropriating their property.

Castillo Donate's deputy and another senior official got 14 and 12 years, respectively. A total of 13 hospital employees were found guilty in the case, including the cook.

Temperatures on the Caribbean island are normally mild, even in winter, but plunged to 38 degrees Fahrenheit (4 Celsius) in January 2010 in the area where Havana's Psychiatric Hospital is located.

Many of the patients at the hospital, which has more than 2,500 beds, lacked adequate clothes and blankets.

News of the deaths rippled through the population for days before they were reported by Havana's official media, a severe embarrassment for a country that prides itself on providing first-rate health care, despite its other economic problems.

Those found guilty can appeal to the Supreme Court.