The Crusade of Virginia Legislator Dr. Craige Deeds PhD

Mental Health Crusader, Dr. Craige Deeds PhD
State Senator Craige Deeds PhD
Modern life, it seems, may bring to us at times, more than our share of tragedies. A person who has suffered and endured what I consider the most painful such loss in recent memory, is Dr. Craige Deeds Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Virginia. He is also a Virginia state legislator who has dedicated himself more than ever, to the cause of reforming and improving mental health care delivery in Virginia. He lost his son in 2013 when his then schizophrenic son, committed suicide after trying to stab his father Dr. Deeds. Dr. Deeds had endeavored to hospitalize his son after that incident but somehow in the whole state, there were no beds for his sons, a circumstance I cast a very skeptical eye upon, with my own suspicions as to why none could be found at all. His son was treated for four days with medications in an ER and then had to be released when he had calmed and was no longer deemed dangerous. Four days later, he suicided.
Dr. Deeds faced this tragedy and turned his tragedy and sorrow into something positive which is about the only thing one can do. He redoubled his previous efforts in mental health legislation and singlehandedly almost has nudged the state of Virginia into enacting and putting into place several well thought out reforms, changes and additions to the state’s public mental health system. The first reform was a long needed statewide registry database of open psychiatric beds. This enabled mental health professionals and law enforcement officials and courts to place quickly acutely ill persons needing urgent inpatient psychiatric care, into hospital beds. One radical aspect of this law and change was that private psychiatric beds were mandated to be included. This prevented private psychiatric units from refusing involuntarily committed patients or unruly persons from being rejected out of hand for admission.
The reader is referred to a very recent article on the website of a CBS tv affiliate in middle southwestern Virginia, Bath County, “Lawmaker, nearly killed by son, works to improve mental health care in Virginia.”
Dr. (State Senator for his second title) Deeds has labored mightily to take one broad, large, unwieldy state-wide system issue in Virginia’s broken system of public mental health services delivery after another. It can be easily said that he has done what no one else has done, and accomplished as a result of these efforts, more than any other single person in this country. I regard him personally with utmost respect as our present modern day personification of the great reformer, Dorothea Dix. One of the things that Dr. Deeds has done, has been to cross the political aisles in his state. He has brought the two feuding political parties together in a common effort and fashioned a new alliance that has passed a set of legislative advances for over 3 years since his efforts began to take off in 2014.

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The Minnesota Mental Health Reform Crusade

Through the wonders of my trusty Google Search Bots, I was made aware of a book published by a regional university press. Upon linking to the press release for this book, I realized that in another less totally “connected” world in my past lifetime, I would have never known of this literary gem. This book, as fascinating and scholarly as it is, appealing to my personal historical interests and professional psychiatric mental health reform history, likely will have an undeserved narrow readership. But in my own literary zeal, I hope to support this author’s superb scholarship efforts in this field by calling attention to her wonderful book and read.

The book I am speaking of is “The Crusade for Forgotten Souls: Reforming Minnesota’s Mental Institutions, 1946-1954,” by Susan Bartlett Foote. This book is published by the University of Minne-     otaPress, Minneapolis, MN, 20108.

The Crusade for Forgotten Souls: Reforming Minnesota's Mental Institutions, 1946–1954

There exist dozens of books in print on the history of mental health reform, state hospitals, asylums, and so on. Additionally, there are many out of print books to be had by the student of mental health reform, thanks to the incredible networked of bookshops and sellers on the Internet. I have long been a student and collector (to my wife’s everlasting anti-hoarding tendencies) of antique and historical tomes on psychiatry, mental health, and psychoanalysis. In past decades when I first had my interest kindled in this scholarly effort by two mentors. These two far-sighted supervisors and teachers cultivated the awareness in me that many surprising answers and relevant insights could be gleaned from the acquaintance of the historical efforts of predecessors in our field and any area of human endeavor and understanding for that manner. To fuel my collecting and voracious reading appetite, I relied on one publishing and book reseller business in New York City (natch, where else?) as the only source for my dogged blood hound collector impulses. That business still exists, but sadly I utilized them far less often as their range of books seems narrow to me these days. But they still “cover” the field of psychiatric writers that I can find nowhere else so my loyalty to them persist.

This book serves as a scholarly, historical prod to this reader of mental health reform history because it is a unique book. It is not dry documentation of events as some books in this arena can be. Any area of historical review and retelling for a contemporary audience runs the high risk of taking the easy route of simply cataloging events. At least some of the history textbooks of my youth were such tediously boring examples.  Like many youths of that era, I could not understand why anyone would want to study history. What saved me was experiencing the teaching of history of other countries and cultures in schools overseas. I was awakened to the rich stories of the Middle East and of the British Empire in different schools. I returned to the US at the end of my high school years and dove into America political history in the only history course before university studies that hooked me. I focused on two area, the Civil War and the formation of the American system of government in the Revolutionary period. These interests prepared me for looking at my profession of psychiatry in a historical manner that afforded me a much deeper appreciation for even the most routine daily efforts in my work with patients and systems.

One of the first lessons that are highlighted in Ms. Foote’s book is the lost refrain that mental reform is not a new current of our time. Every generation of reformers seems to suffer initially from the realization that their efforts often have been duplicated in past eras. The helpful grace of this intellect and psyche warming circumstance is that any contemporaneous effort can be buttressed by learning from the directions of past efforts and their successes and failures.

Another lesson that is more sobering is that past reforms led to acclaimed successes that were much celebrated. Politicians, reformers, and those who implemented the changes bourne out of the results of the reforms felt early on that changes they had all worked so hard to accomplish would go a long way toward solving the problems that initiated the zeal of reform.

But the efforts did not lead to lasting change. In the state mental hospital orbits, reality overtook even the best of intentions.

Ms. Foote weaves a masterful story of a period of years in the pre-deinstitutionalization era, up to the early 1950’s. This makes for a truly engaging and fascinating read. Many different tides of motivations and ideologies are described. They range from social reformers of the 1800’s such as national figures like Dorothea Dix to a more intimate portrayal of local Minnesotan figures that were unknown to me. One of the other historical tributaries for the unique critical mass reached in Minnesota in the post-WWII years, was that of the singular religious community in the state, largely not existing elsewhere in this country except for the Quaker communities who pioneered mental health reform as early as the 1700’s.

One notable feature of Ms. Foote’s book helps stories of patients’ lives to come alive as few other books I have read. The second chapter has vignette life stories of several patients all ably researched from superb sources that the author read herself in unique local venues in Minnesota.

Only one other book I have seen rivals this book as far as an unusual source of person based history which I find to be the most interesting kind…That other  book with such storytelling power is “The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic,” by writer by Darby Penney, psychiatrist-photographer Peter Stastny.

 This book resulted from the NY State mental health commission finding a treasure trove of patients’ suitcases after their admissions to one of the closed state hospitals. The authors wrote a book on the actual lives of the patients whose belongings they found. The authors found descendants living in venues in NY state and interviewed them learning more of their lives, filling in the details accordingly, making for an incredible read.

Milwaukee County’s Mental Health Reform Successes

In a local publication, the Urban Milwaukee online newsletter reports on the beginnings of success in Milwaukee County’s difficult reform process addressing their overstressed mental health services delivery system. Milwaukee County had made the national news more than a few occasions in the last three years or so, as its deficiencies came to light. The reader is encouraged to use any search engine to see such accounts as this, to get a feel for what the advocates, patients, public mental health agencies and the local county government, were facing. It sounded even to this reader and observer, like another example of failure, governmental funding neglect, inadequate services, etc., that would take its place alongside numerous other instances of local and regional failure in mental health services delivery. It was also very much in doubt that adequate solutions would or could be organized, funded and put into place.

However, the local groups involved in Milwaukee County from county officials to agencies, advocacy groups, patients, and mental health providers, pledged to address the issues jointly, and they did so for over two years. Their efforts, I am sure, were extremely difficult and daunting to everyone involved. But they persevered under very stressful circumstances, and as the television commentators would say, ‘they pulled it off.’

In an article entitled “Milwaukee County’s Approach in Mental Health Reform is a National Success Story,” this unusual effort is detailed anyone interested in this national and local issue to read, take heart from, and to learn from.

One of the signal features of their effort was truly bringing all the “stakeholders” together to work in a very unified manner, encouraging novel ideas. Very different worlds, from police to clinicians and local governmental officials of all stripes formed working groups in a “multidisciplinary” way[another current buzzword that I often detest, but seems to apply in this effort]. One example is that early on in their work process, the reformers for lack of a better term overcame the usual city-county splits of governmental entities, clinical entities, and police law enforcement groups. Too often I have seen all kinds of efforts ranging from budgetary matters to who pays for the pro football team’s new stadium to where the next trash landfill will be located. In greater Milwaukee, the city-county entities worked together [gee, I wish Congress could do that…]

So, if you are interested in mental health reform and need an example of success to strengthen your own resolve, please read about Milwaukee’s efforts.

 

Virginia’s Mental Health Reform Legislative Progress

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Larned State Hospital Turns to Law Enforcement Figure for Hospital Superintendent

I am calling attention once again to the long-standing troubles at one of the two Kansas state psychiatric hospitals, Larned State Hospital, which has had over the last few years a host of staffing, management, clinical and accreditation problems. I am reaching back a bit, now six months to refer to an article, published June 29 of last year, 2016, by the online arm of KHI News Service of Topeka, “Longtime Kansas State Attorney Name Larned State Hospital Superintendent by Bryan Thompson.” The new hospital superintendent is Mr. Bill Rein, long experienced in state mental health affairs. Mr. Rein brings a vast amount of experience with him, including his former positions as the former chief counsel for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, which oversees the state’s mental health hospitals in Larned and Osawatomie. He also had been the former chief counsel for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, which oversees the state’s mental health hospitals in Larned and Osawatomie. He also had supervised attorneys representing the state hospitals from 1984 to 1987. So this man has had an unusual career of experience in mental health policy planning, drafting mental health-related legislation and direct experience in a vital sector of legal representation of the state’s mental hospitals.

 

Bill Rein the new superintendent of Larned State Hospital since June 2016
CREDIT FILE PHOTO, KHI News Service, Topeka KS

 

When Mr. Rein was appointed he spoke of the tasks facing him and showed an unusual and encouraging grasp of the magnitude of the problems that face this hospital in particular which mirror those of other state hospitals around the country, including long-term inadequate funding, overworked staff forced into overtime work shifts much too frequently causing high staff turnover, difficulties recruiting care and professional staff at all levels because of the very rural location of the hospital with a small’ish surrounding population base, and particular difficulties attracting professional mental health staff because of low salaries that are noncompetitive.

This man is shouldering a very large task and this writer hopes he can turn this hospital and vitally needed system around in time. I hope to watch and monitor developments and bring them to the reader in the future. Kansas hopefully can become an example to other states of what it will take to put in place quality based reforms at the state psychiatric hospital system level for other states facing almost exactly the same problems, of which there are more than a few in this country.

 

New State Hospital Already Destined to be Closed

In an article, “New state hospital may close,” published in the Bulletin of the Salem’s Central Oregon region,  the Associated Press reported December 3, 2016, that Oregon’s Governor Kate Brown had suggested she had decided or was in the process of deciding to close a new state psychiatric hospital, in the Eugene, OR area, near Junction City. which is the new site of the original Oregon State Hospital.This hospital has a total capacity of 100 beds.

The hospital which has been open only 18 months and cost $130M to build, is slated for possible/probable closure in mid-2018. Its closure was heralded as necessary to save the economically beleaguered state much-needed monies. No real details are given by the state personnel’s’ announcement concerning this drastic move except there is a large budgetary “hole” in the state’s health care departments’ budgets and closing the hospital, which has 422 employees will save the state $34.5M a year.

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The Simplest Mental Health Reform Blueprint

In an unassuming online article published by WDKI television of Kansas, “Mental health reform proposed in Kansas,”there is laid out a summary of the initiative(s) now stirring in Kansas that show the simplest and some of the most needed mental health reform measures needed in this country. The irony is that they are incredibly simple, intuitive and long known as needed by policy wonks in the field and providers of all types in the mental health professions.

They boil down to basically simply and (stupidly enough) restoring some of the most basic lynch pins of our system of mental health care delivery.

Those essential foundations or struts of the superstructures of local or regional mental health care delivery systems of ANY size, consists of two basic things, money (“funding” in the ever dominant bureaucratic talk) and providers. Such a non-complex concept that we are starting to circle around to and rediscover. [Read angry irony in that last sentence please].

The last 20 years have seen state legislatures  cut funding for state and local mental  health services, fight Medicaid expansion to help provide mental health insurance and thereafter access to the ‘new’ privatized’ models of MH services agencies {they used to be called “mental health centers” in each country]. In most states, the new mental health reforms were SUPPOSED to cover the uninsured but somehow they often did not because of limited funding {read “block funding”]. Block funding as a concept originated mostly under the Nixon administration and since then has been largely used by a political party of a certain flavor tp punish frowned upon governmental services, such as Planned Parenthood, National Public Radio, and other entities, you get the idea. The concept was that funding was not cut off to avoid too much blowback, but given in limited and sometimes ever shrinking amounts with the admonition to choose upon what to spend it, leaving the do-gooders in the agencies to make the cuts and make the less than kind decisions and “be the bad guys.” That way legislators could crow to their constituents that they had not increased spending and had not cut funding [the latter often untrue but who’s quibbling here, this is politics…).

The other major pillar of deconstruction of the old county-based mental health system has been the ever shrinking pool of psychiatrists, counsellors, substance abuse counsellors, psychologists, child therapists of all disciplines and especially outreach workers in the old public health system sense, the “outriders,” who visited homes and if nothing else dropped the essential daily antipsychotic doses into patients’ mouths and made sure they swallowed them. It’s called “compliance.” Training programs until the last 10 years have done nothing but stay static in numbers of graduates or shrink dramatically as my one training program did for years. Some few departments of psychiatry closed or merged such as the famous occurrence at Tufts University Dept. of Psychiatry in Boston decades ago which was essentially saved and bought out by Harvard.

Reading the article makes me realize it has taken 30 years to pummel into the heads of the so-called reformers that three simple needed measures: outpatient services including residential systems of living centers for displaced mentally ill out of destroyed or as they would say in the Peron dictatorship years in Argentina, “disappeared,” hospital beds, and increase the funding and programs for providers, in this case, psychiatric residents. Sen. Chris Murphy’s bill and Former Rep. Patrick Kennedy’s now in effect merged national mental health reform bill does the same things largely except on a national basis

Dr Harold Carmel MD of Duke Psychiatry said now over a decade ago, “it will take us 10 years to get back to where we were 10 years ago.” At least we have real starts now.

 

History of Osawatomie State Hospital in Kansas as National Metaphor

Ms. Megan Hart of the Kansas Public Radio Station KCUR and the group Heartland Health Monitor partner KHI News Service has been following and chronicling the long sad story of the Osawatomie State Hospital in Kansas for quite some time now, nearly two years or perhaps longer, that this writer has been aware. Ms. Hart’s latest article, “Osawatomie State Hospital: A Leading Light for Mental Health Care Slowly Dims.” published  July 25, 2016 documents very ably both the issues of this state hospital, its parent state, and the social vise that all too many such state hospitals more or less find themselves facing in this time of hoped for reform.This piece of American state hospital history is in many ways not unique to the fascinating and very checkered social history of the American state psychiatric hospital for public inpatient care of the seriously and chronically mentally ill.

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Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act Passed the House of Representatives

I have long awaited this juncture, the partial passage of the most significant, and hopefully helpful federal mental health reform legislation in this country since President Kennedy’s 1963 Community Mental Health Center Act, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act,” or HR 2646. [I would encourage readers to actually follow the link to the text of the bill and give it a studied read]. Politics is ordinarily as an area I steer away from in my public blog writings as for the last 30 years it has been nothing more than a hopeless, dirty, pointless and non-productive quagmire that until recently has held no real relationship to the issues dear to this effort’s mental health professional’s heart.

But the time has come to start commenting upon, openly following in [I hope] responsible medical journalistic fashion, the life, future and fruits and/or unintended consequences of the slow legislative efforts and developments of years of failed political/legislative efforts to repair our long broken mental health care delivery system, both public and private. The Helping Families Crisis Act now appears to be the first piece of legislation with at least a reasonable potential to effect a vast amount of good effort in the right directions and quarters. One of the many recent news articles, printed over the last year or so to keep this bill alive in the public’s mind, prompted my entering into the national discussion regarding this legislation and its significance. I had held off doing so as for months it has appeared that it would be lost in the polarization of the political parties of the last four Presidential terms or buried/ignored because of lack of support since it concerned “mental health issues,” and all their complexities that at time legislators seems to avoid like the plague. But now it has recently “made it over the top,” as it were and appears destined for passage by the Senate in the near fall. In fact, it has seemed to gain a sort of hallowed status as one of those bills that the pols finally realize they had better jump on to the bandwagon rather than ignore any longer. And politically speaking, it has greatly helped that two brave Republican Congressman have fought hard for this legislation and made it politically acceptable to even most extremists to support.”

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Good News for New Hampshire, Not So Good News for Vermont

This writer keeps monitoring for positive developments in the realm of mental health reform and there are more than a few beginning to materialize around the country.

Of brief note is the fact that yesterday, Congress began finally to take positive legislative forward movement on Representative Tim Murphy’s “MHealth Care for Families…” bill to move it toward the Senate and the President’s signature. It is a huge step in the right direction.

Another positive development of note is that New Hampshire, according to a news report by KSL.com, “State hospital opens 10-bed mental health crisis unit,” on its online site for the states’ KSL TV channel, of July 5, 2016, reported that “A new 10-bed mental health crisis unit is open at New Hampshire Hospital after almost a delay of years.” The unit opened in Concord NH but illustrated immediately the enormity of the need in “little ol’ New Hampshire,” as we might say here in the South. On the day after it was opened it already had a waiting list of 23 people for emergency admission.

The article also mentions quite significantly that this entire effort was prompted by the state’s need to comply with a federal lawsuit over these very issues that had been initiated in 2013.

This observer sadly notes that even noble catch-up efforts in the nation’s and states’ mental health reform effort that are need, all good, and well intentioned, often are behind even when they get started but at least we are finally going in the right direction in places now.

But in the neighboring state of Vermont, things are not good. For months there has been well-deserved focus on something one does not hear much about anymore, since President Reagan broke the air controllers’ strike in the 1980’s and the decline of “organized labor” and “unions’ began in this country. Another striking feature of this situation has been that this new labor against management movement has involved healthcare professionals and mental healthcare professionals, which is truly almost totally anState opens new mental health crisis unit unheard of this country. This story has been a gathering storm since last year. It seemed to start in this writer’s mind a few years ago when whichever torrential “Nor’easter” storm savaged its way up the East Coast and into inland New England which is a bit of a rarity. That storm wiped out the state’s only public mental health hospital. Vermont has been limping along borrowing/leasing psychiatric inpatient beds in the state’s small private psychiatric inpatient hospital world. The state has relied most heavily on the Dartmouth Medical School’s inpatient psychiatric services for temporary relief.

This seemed at the time the best solution that could be had on a sort of moment’s notice state of urgency and emergency. But there was trouble in paradise so to speak. Labor problems began within months and built to the point where psychiatric nurses and psychiatrists themselves were fed up with working conditions which I am not privy to at all and began to voice their concerns at the state political level. Apparently, not much was responded to and too little positive corrective action appeared.

So they began to talk of work stoppages, strikes and other things that this writer associated with the United Mine Workers’ and United Steelworkers’ and Teamsters’ unions of the 1960’s and 1970’s that were every few years regular events. It was like Yogi Berra summarized in his most famous quote, “Deja vue all over again.” I personally know of psychiatrists through indirect sources that the psychiatrists were not just posturing to wangle higher wages, but were so serious that they were actively looking for jobs elsewhere, so strongly did the group of them feel about the deficiencies of patient care and availability. And Dartmouth and the State were caught in the middle I suppose, trying to generous and even-handed about all this.

This is yet another symptom of how bitter and unfortunately rancorous the processs of advocating for change can be anywhere, in any system, when the vehicle being ‘recalled and repaired and retooled’ can be at present when we attempt both short term and long term fixes that neither come easily nor rapidly enough. Again this writer will follow this story closely. I for one have never been on strike, though I went through them as a child decades ago as both my parents worked in the mining industry and this a regular every so many years event. And in the spirit of transparency, I know I could not do this and abandon my own patients.