Oklahoma Joins List of “Distressed” Mental Health States

Approximately 3 weeks ago I read one of the most distressing that most informative articles I have seen in over 20 years. It was published in the Oklahoma City newspaper on January 2, 2015 and written by Jaclyn Cosgrove. It was entitled “‘Epidemic ignored’: Oklahoma treats its mental health system without care.” It was described as: “a yearlong investigation into Oklahoma’s mental health system.’

It had the usual now almost obligatory saddened startling photographs of dilapidated antiquated hospital facilities with patients in threadbare clothing without shoes crowded into dining halls or sitting hopelessly in empty hallways.

Much more startling to me the reader of such articles now spanning nearly 30 years since I have made it special interest of mine, were reading quotes from legislators, treatment advocates, and mental health professionals from time periods ranging from 40 to 100 years ago. The statements that were discovered and published in this article were quite riveting and unsettling because they could have been uttered in the last few years and without there being identified in the context of the years long past when they were first uttered, I would’ve had no idea if these were statements made by people long deceased. It was like reading the history of our present dilemma in mental health care system delivery and its failures nationwide, that existed in a parallel almost identical universe of similar mistakes, failures to adequately fund mental health programs, many of whom had forms and objectives and methods similar to the “new” massive programmatic renovations proposed in almost all states in this country today

For instance in 1895 the governor at that time of Oklahoma William C Renfro began proposing a novel idea that residents should be treated for their mental illness closer to their homes. This arose out of the unbelievable practice in that time in Oklahoma when the territory was sending mentally ill residents away by train to the state of Illinois. A second example is the fact that this newspaper article reported, “almost 80 years ago, the national mental hospital survey committee published a report that noted that air Oklahoma would save money if it invested in its mental health system.’ Whatever the future may bring,’ the report concluded,’ Oklahoma cannot look on itself with pride until provision is made for adequate care of its mentally helpless citizens. The year of that statement was 1937. It was recognized even then that the few state-funded inpatient hospitals then supported by the state of Oklahoma were only the first part of the treatment continuum that had to include community placement for the chronically mentally ill
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One of the fundamental hypotheses of this newspaper article was that Oklahoma has been far behind in most other states in this country in providing mental health services. For instance the news purple article noted that in the year is surrounding World War II, Oklahoma had one of the worst doctor to patient ratios ranking it number 43 in the United States for care of the mentally ill. One other telling statistic was cited that each of the doctors at Central State Hospital in approximately 1947 had a caseload of 700 people, one of the highest psychiatric physician caseloads in the United States. It also had one nurse for every 45 patients in the hospital. The problems with safety of the psychiatric hospitals and facilities began very early in the history of treatment of the mentally ill in Oklahoma. For instance Western State Hospital at Fort Supply was overcrowded by nearly 500 patients and had building buildings which had already by the 1880s been repeatedly condemned by fire marshals as fire hazards and there were only four doctors to treat 1603 patients and no nurses or social worker

This is the historical backdrop to the looming mental health serivce crisis in Oklahoma today. This beginning examination of the mental health crisis in Oklahoma will be examined further in the coming weeks in a series of posts that will sketch the usual elements that have already beeen seen to operate in so many other states the last 20 years. These all too well known factors include: economic shortfalls in the state’s budget that suddenly jeopardize everything except football program at the state universities, poor foresight and plannnining, shortage of mental health professionals and delaying for still years the easy to have been seen to explore still further the outpatient agenices, facilities, physicial plants and staff cohorts of the world of public outpatient mental health services.

Further I will go on to document in following posts the same kind of story in another state with very unique twists and hardships of its own in meeting lesser mental health care needs in that state, Alaska which is slowly grinding toward a large crisis of its own.

 

 

 

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Mental health cuts increase emergencies

It is now accepted social truth in this country that the last 20 years or more of funding cuts, so unwisely effected for ALL the wrong reasons, have resulted in longer waiting times in community hospital ERs and the huge shifting by the hundreds of thousands of mentally ill patients to the local and state correctional systems, that it is almost trite to write about this. But as the saying goes, “the beat goes on,” due to the still misguided policies underlying mental health funding policies in this country.

It is so bad that this writer cannot refrain from penning a bastardization (sorry for the language momma…), “destroy them [inpatient psychiatric beds] and they will come…to the ERs and jails.”

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More States Paying the Price of Cuts

One of the sadly recurring, and enduring themes of so-called “mental health reform” in this country,  is the inevitability of a number of problems as state hospital beds are foolishly cut in this country and staff positions are cut as well.

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The Difficulties of Funding Improved Delivery of Mental Health Care

Today, September 22, 2015, the Raleigh News and Observer newspaper revealed and published some very disheartening and totally surprising news that illustrates yet another dilemma in the ever more difficult tasks in improving mental health care public services in this state, and, likely reflects the kinds of dilemmas that other states are and will be struggling with in facing up to their obligations in this area. The article is entitled: “NC budget cuts $110 million from regional mental health,” and can be read here.

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Contrarian Thoughts on the State Mental Hospital System: We Still Need Them

The state hospital system in this country began as an attempt in various of the early 13 colonies and later the early states as humane, for the most part, attempts to house the mentally ill. Williamsburg VA, now the site of Eastern Virginia State Hospital and a  similar facility established by the Quakers in Philadelphia were two of the earliest efforts. There was no effective treatment until the advent of ECT (electroconvulsive therapy in the 1940’s and 1050’s with its own then shortcomings and crude, barbaric techniques till refined later, and the advent of psychiatric medications starting with Thorazine, Valium Elavil etc., in the 1950’s.

By this time even the best efforts of Clifford Beers a man who had recurrent psychotic mental illness and wrote in the early 1900’s the first widely read autobiographical account of his onw psychosis which was a national sensation as it described basically for the first time for the public, the pain of being mentally ill, and Dorothea Dix the great crusader for the mentally ill the lattter half of the 1800’s, fell short of preventing the average state hospital from turning into a facility for containment, incarcertion, etc., of the mentally ill. The famous book ASYLUM was published in the fifties and cranked up the debate over “institutionalization” and debasing treatment of the patients in the average state hospital. This fueled, the movement to get patients out of state hospitals, then beginning to be thought of as cruel institutions and less as places of possible treatment or early rehabilitation. This book came on the national scene at the “right” time, caught the attention of the public, politicians, advocates and helped to state the partial dismantling of state hospitals nearly every where. Bed numbers were reduced from averages of a few thousand beds per hospital, as many state hospitals were indeed massive. Smaller was thought to be better and bed numbers through the second half of the 20th century over time came down to the hundreds. And this does not include the dozens of institutions that were outright closed, because of revelations of abuse, mistreatment, no treatment, subhuman conditions, and “warehousing.” The Comprehensive Mental Health Center Act of 1963 was enacted as one of the last major pieces of legislation of the JFK Presidency. Smaller treatment-oriented facilities were to be built all over the country by the hundreds, often to be linked up with major medical centers. One of the earliest community psychiatric hospitals so built was Marshall I. Pickens Hospital in Greenville SC next to Greenville Memorial Hospital. They both still exist today; GMH is the major teaching hospital because of its size and faculty, of the University of South Carolina at Columbia. The opening of Marshall Pickens Hospital was graced by the presence of no less than Hubert Humphrey in the early years of Lyndon Johnson’s administration after the assassination of President Kennedy.

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Maldistribution and Shortage of Psychiatrists and Child Psychiatrists

This is a reprise of a recent post on my other site “Pen and Psychiatrist.” I apologize to the the reader if you have already read this topic at the other site which deals in more cultural and social issues. But after I posted that entry not too long ago, I realized it more properly belonged on this site, since it deals with one aspect of the mental health reform puzzle in this country.

In my previous life some two decades ago as a young Turk clinical teaching and supervising faculty of psychiatric and child psychiatric residents and fellows in training at Duke Medical Center, I became interested in “manpower” (the vernacular then) or more properly speaking practitioner distribution and training issues of psychiatrists. This was in the so called Golden Age of mental health practice, even though the service delivery system in all disciplines, had serious issues, I and many many others could see the troublesome issue of maldistribution of mental health care professionals that was emerging three decades ago and worsening  year by year. Basically what was evolving was a situation in which desirable places to live, urban areas with urban amenities such as the symphonies, ballet and performing arts companies, university centers, and above all many colleagues around for support and lively continuing education meetings of regional psychology, social work and psychiatry societies, kept graduates of advanced training programs in the regions in which they trained. So over time, it evolved that areas like Boston/Cambridge MA, Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill NC (the Triangle Area), Ann Arbor MI, Dartmouth, New York City especially Manhattan, Stony Brooke, Long Island, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Eugene OR, San Diego, Davis CA, Charleston SC, Atlanta GA, Birmingham AL, Albuquerque, Tucson AZ, and many other urban areas became the landing places where psychiatrists trained and often stayed to practice, in the university medical center cities. A good friend and colleague, now passed on Bruce Neeley MD of Duke and Emery, used to give lectures to residents nearing the penultimate stages of their training careers and were a year away from the decision of where to settle to practice. By then the 1980’s the trend had become set in concrete, only a minority of graduating psychiatrists left the training centers and set up practice in under-served areas.

Bruce Neeley and I separately in turn would give almost off the records seminars to the ‘senior residents,’ telling them in so many words, almost like the famous newspaper editor of the 1800’s, “Go West Young Psychiatrist,” In North Carolina we first meant go literally to western North Carolina which I knew very well because of my wife’s origin from Cherokee NC. But we also meant “get out of the urban centers, there are too many of us here already.”

WNC then and sadly still is vastly under-served by psychiatry with a chronic shortage that is almost criminal. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of child psychiatrists in practice west of Asheville and that is a lot of territory. I used to tell senior residents to “Get out of the RTP [Research Triangle Park, another term used to denote the entire Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area since each of those cities incredibly are only 8 to 15 miles from each other!

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Closing State Psychiatric HosptalAs: Consequences, Good and Not So Good

As usual I always bow to my internal ethics and try to be as open and transparent as possible about the subject at hand, revealing attitudes, biases, views based on long term experience, and an almost “historical view” of the galloping phenomenon of “mental health care delivery reform” thankfully occupying the attention of the country finally. I am old enough to have practiced in the so called mental health age of oodles of resources, and have watched them atrophy, became extinct, go corrupt and get themselves prosecuted out of existence, lose funding for many many understandable reasons, lose their place of importance, watch the ever decreasing number of bright talented younger generations of “would have been social workers, psychiatrists, and psychologists” shy away from the training programs, and our numbers go down especially in child psychiatry. One could take an  inflammatory demagogic view and see is as necessary to prevent th abuse and horrors that indeed happened for decades shuttered away out of the light of public review and knowledge and responsible accountability and oversight. But that approach has nearly led to the old saw of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater because something was wrong with the bathwater, too dirty, too hot, whatever. I have seen the inhumane past and still in more restricted corners, inhumane treatment of patients in poorly run state hospitals that made me so mad I thought i would bomb them into the ground they were so bad, but of course after evacuating the helpless patients. I have helped to de-accredite the abominations of such hospitals, a few but enough to see first hand the decades old cultures of isolated facilities with poor faculty, psychiatrists who could work no where else due to histories of alcoholism, just plain bad practitioners and all the rest. I have had close colleagues since my residency days who presided  over the deserved federally mandated dismantling of closure of famous hellholes permitted to exist far too long and heard their stories of generations of horror stories.

But in the midst of all this, or in my case in the last quarter of my career, I still know and hold to the somewhat unpopular certitude that state psychiatric hospitals are needed, good ones and now more than every. One simply statistic is that out country’s population and mental health treatment burden has at least doubled if now tripled since World War II. And we have had new mental health phenomenon syndromes, traumatic brain injuries of unforeseen overwhelming magnitude outstripping the abilities of public and private psychiatric-neurological treatment worlds to receive, treat and comprehensively help them out of our IED head rattling new genre of injuries in the Middle Eastern conflicts we have had to enter, police and try to stabilize at little thanks from much of the rest of the concerned world with some exceptions.

State hospitals across the country have been marked for closure and destructions for decades with the trend accelerating greatly in the last 2o years or so. It was thought and expected the the monies saved from funding these “dinosaurs” would be responsibly shifted to the long known need for massive outpatient services for the CMI, chronically mentally ill for which the state hospitals had long existed and served, and served well in a surprising high number of hospitals. Remember the famous Meninnger family of three generations of nationally recognized humane psychiatrists practiced in a state public hospital, Topeka State in Kansas a venerable training and research facility itself.

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