Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Answers to “Where Have All the Patients Gone?”

(March 26, 2014) “What would have happened if Aaron Alexis was not just given sleeping pills at the VA? Or if there was an available hospital bed or outpatient treatment available for others who later became violent, involved in a crime, unable to pay bills, or tossed out on the street?”
murphyThese were the questions posed by Rep. Tim Murphy  as he opened at this morning’s House subcommittee hearing on the shortage of psychiatric beds, the latest in a  series of hearings he has chaired on the nation’s broken mental health system.
For more than three hours, a panel of experts and family members described the devastating impact the psychiatric bed shortage has on patients and communities.
“Community programs serve those who seek and accept treatment. Those who refuse or are too sick to seek treatment voluntarily become a law enforcement responsibility,” said Chief of Police Michael Biasotti, Treatment Advocacy Center board member and immediate past president of the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police. “Hospitals are so overcrowded they often can’t admit new patients and discharge many before they are stable. They become what we call ‘frequent flyers.’” Read Biasotti’s testimony.
“My son was admitted on Friday morning and was in the ED that whole day, all day Saturday, all day Sunday and until late Monday afternoon because they could not find an open psych bed anywhere,” Lisa Ashley, the mother of a man with paranoid schizophrenia, told the committee. “He stayed in a room, tied to his bed for those four days and was heavily medicated. . . . I wondered ‘does it take that long to find a psych bed?’” Read Ashley’s testimony.
 “This is a crisis we must all care about – regardless of political affiliation – because it affects us all,” testified Sheriff Dart, who oversees Cook County Jail in Illinois, the largest jail in the country. “While some mentally ill individuals are charged with violent offenses, the majority are charged with crimes seemingly committed to survive, including retail theft, trespassing, prostitution and drug possession. . . . We have criminalized mental illness in this country and prisons and jails are where the majority of mental health care is administered.” Read Sheriff Dart’s testimony.
“Homelessness and mental illness are inextricably intertwined,” said Gunther Stern, executive director of Georgetown Ministry Center, which provides support to chronically homeless men and women in Washington DC. “Greg is someone I first met sitting on a bench in a nearby park. He was shabbily dressed and smelled bad. He would drink, I assume to tame the voices in his head. All of this belied the fact that Greg was once a gifted constitutional lawyer who delighted his children with his dry wit.” Read Stern’s testimony.
“It is an unplanned, albeit entirely unacceptable consequence of deinstitutionalization that the state psychiatric asylums, dismantled out of concern for the humane treatment and care of individuals with serious mental illness, have now effectively been replaced by confinement in prisons and homeless shelters,” Murphy said.

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