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.

Continue reading “Closing State Psychiatric HosptalAs: Consequences, Good and Not So Good”

The Continuing Serious Shortage of Child Psychiatrists

I first have to make my disclosure statement: I am a child psychiatrist, in addition to being and adult, and geriatric psychiatrist. I trained and was board certified in all three subspecialties but I am a child psychiatrist and that will necessarily makes its way into this post and I wish the reader to know that up front.

The Arab news agency Al-Jazeera had a very recent article that caught my week several days ago. It was entitled: “Shortage of child psychiatrists plagues the US.” It appeared June 25, 2015. It was very fair and well done and I appreciated the factual, accurate and in depth reporting that went into it. But as an American and a child psychiatrist, it stung a little. One of our 30 year old problems that we have unconscionably neglected and is a big part of our present self inflicted, national “mental health crisis” is catching the attention of the foreign press more and more. This hurts. And part of why it hurts is that the venerable, sort of business-y conservative, Wall Street Journal has been reporting on the shortage of child psychiatrist now for well over a decade. If the reader will Google ‘child psychiatrist shortage Wall Street Journal’ you will get a few pages of listings of well done articles published in the past by the Wall Street Journal in past years.

Continue reading “The Continuing Serious Shortage of Child Psychiatrists”

History of Michigan’s Mental Health System Continuing Crisis

Yesterday, July 2, 2015 I gave credit to a medical innovator and systems analyst, a physician, and a plastic surgeon, at that, at Henry Ford Macomb Hospital in Clinton Township MI, Dr. Vikram Reddy MD MAHS who as medical quality of care director of the hospitl, wrote in the Free Press and Bridge Magazine there locally of his pilot project to try to address the long standing, not improving problem of “frequent flyer,” high cost, not resolving ER patients that represent one of the growing and worst public health care crises in this country that plague every hospital in the USA large or small. He is making a superb effort to organize, energize, find and locate appropriate medical management services for these problematic medical consumers who seek highest cost care in the most inappropriate place, the hospital ER. This relates to many nationwide problems growing since the Reagan years that I will refer to later. But Dr. Reddy is trying an approach being looked at nationally as a solution to this issue, i.e., diversion/referral to appropriate services outside the ER that do much more good, are able to give these patients long term, continuing, consistent disease management that they need and deserve and that is where the healthcare dollars are really saved while at the same providing health maintaining and promoting care, care that prevents relapse of their conditions, and keeps them from going into crisis and having to seek inpatient care which is usually at least 10 to 20 times the cost of outpatient care. Now don’t you think that would motivate the planner and governments to seize upon these sensible solutions? “Not hardly” as they say here in the South.

Who are the patients? They can be easily identified as falling in approximately these groups: (and I apologize right now if my brain leaves out/omit significant groups as I will comment upon those I know and see the best and most and may omit others); 1) the drug prescription abuser/addict who has or utilizes inappropriately a pain condition to repetitively doctor shop, and nowadays “ER shop,” in  order to gain more prescriptions for opiates, to abuse until they run out and start all over again at the same or a different ER: 2) the chronic substance abuse who is not in recovery whether having been in “starter” substance abuse programs, like inpatient detox program/units, or AA/NA etc., and come in for acute treatment of intoxication and consequent often legal problems (assaults, disorderly conduct, impulsive threats while “out of their (rational) minds making temporary suicidal or homicdal or assaultive threats, or for worsening of many extremely serious comorbidities [accompanying serious recurrent medical problems from continued substance abuse: delirium, worsening of liver disease going into cirrhotic crisis, hepato-renal renal failure, bleeding from the esophagus’ enlarged “varicose like” veins, acute pancreatitis, comatose states from alcohol poisoning or just plain old overdosing on sedating, respiration suppressing drugs ranging from opiates to anti-anxiety medications like Xanax, 3) the young adult who is developmentally disabled and psychiatrically ill  who goes into acute psychiatric crisis, assaults their parents for no reasons, becomes destructive, leaves the home and starts dangerous behaviors like wandering in the woods and on the sides of high speed highways; and lastly 4) the mentally ill who come from homes, the streets, shelters and now ever increasing from the local jails, in acute psychotic crisis and demand immediate attention as much as patient having a myocardial infarction in progress.

So that is what Dr. Reddy is facing in his hospital in Clinton Township MI. Where did this start in Michigan? It started in the recession of the 1980’s when the Big Three automakers were really losing business to the foreign carmakers, especially VW and the Japanese brands who were building better quality cars, that were more efficient and cost less. As the American auto industry suffered massively so did Michigan since guess what? Michigan was ill suited to weather economic change ever if it were positive and revolutionary. Its economy like so many states in the South who suffered even more for even longer, was not diversified; it was based largely on manufacturing with a huge percentage of the machine shops all over SE Michigan serving the auto industry, and agriculture. Tourism, the state higher education university system and big time sports helped but not that much in reality. So the state had to cut revenues and one of the places it placed emphasis upon was the mental health cost center of the state government. Gov. Engler as is known slashed services all over Michigan and by 2000 was planning to privatize the entire system to get the state out of the mental health business which had become an article of faith by then at the National Governors’ Conference in those years. “Cut and Privatize Mental Health.” Nowadays the new mantra is to dismantle the state employees’ unions and workers’ associations and somehow transmogrify a pretty dedicated work force in the McDonald’s restaurant model of the not long term, disposable, LOW paid employee.

By 1999 and certainly by 2000 the Detroit Free Press had been running a series of articles on the dismantling of the mental health system since approximately 1992 or thereafter as the “privatization” ethos of those times from the era of Reagan deregulation as the solution to labor problems and inflation had taken hold of many politicians and policy planners, mostly of the Republican persuasion.

Ms. Wendy Wendland-Bowyer in the early 2000’s for the Free Press did creditable reporting on this evolving issues for a number of years. An example of an article of her, “State to unveil new plan for mental health system,” is a great example. In this she notes indirectly that at that point in time she state was having to “reverse” itself and retreat from its full privatization plan. This article ran on Sept. 1, 2000. But it noted the overriding principal was to convert the county mental health center based systems all over the state to full private competition in which privatized for profit mental health care provider business entities would eventually take over the delivery of mental health care. This was coming after the decade in which Gov. Engler had closed several state psychiatric facilities, Pontiac State, Clearwater, etc. She wrote: “the first phase of the waiver [a permission process from the Feds to do all this] required county mental health agencies to be run like manage care plans. The second phase was to open the county services to private competition.”

There was a feature based on population density, designed to promote business efficiency that has been coped in almost all states by now to eliminate small, supposedly inefficient service units in counties with sparse populations. “The new plan does require that county agencies meet certain goals in order to avoid private competition. For example, the agencies must have at least 20,000 Medicaid recipients in the geographic area – something 12 to 14 of the state’s 49 agencies have…” Of course the unforeseen consequence to this rule, was that with regional “centralization” of mental health centers usually into the county with the largest population of the several that had merged, services access became distant in all these mini-catchment areas for nearly a majority of clients, forcing them to travel longer distances to their ordinary appointments. Compliance went down, more appointments were not kept and guess what, clients ended up in ERs by the hundreds suddenly to all the bean counters’ surprise and have now been perplexing and occupying people like the good Dr. Reddy of Clinton Township with how to fashion a local solution to what is a state imposed system error.

I will apologize at this point. I have included the link to Ms. Wendland-Bowyer’s article, but it is hard to reach and you have to do some real “Search Box” or “Archive” searching to find it on the FREEP website as in the ensuing years the newspaper’s digital online edition has archived or taken down many many of the articles from that era. My sincerest apologies if it is no longer available.

In my next post on the history of the mental health plans and crises in Michigan, which serves as instruction and one of the true original examples for what has and is happening in most of the other states in this country currently, I will talk of the defunding issues of other sectors of the mental health care delivery system that the non provider, ordinary observer would not likely think of, nor realize who vitally important they are and always have been, and what enormous negative consequences they have also had behind the scenes further worsening the dumping of the mentally ill into systems that are not designed to adequately care for them.

 

Plastic Surgeon Describes Michigan Mental Health Delivery Issues: Mirrors Nationwide Problems

I would like to give creidt to Dr. Vikram Reddy MD MHSA, a plastic surgeon, NOT a psychiatrist who has lately been advocating in print for renewed reforms in the state of Michigan which is now over 20 years after the slash and burn cuts in that state’s public mental health care surgeon. You may find his timely and very thoughtful article in The Bridge Magazine or the trusty, still surviing Detroit Free Press.

You may ask why and how would a plastic surgeon of all physicians become so concerned about little ol’ mental health issues? Many reasons: 1) first and foremost he is a dedicated and committed physcician whose first priority is patient care, and primarily ensuring delivery of quality care; 2) he is “medical director of quality and clinical integration at his home hospital in Clinton Township, part of the Henry Ford Macomb Hospital system of great Detroit. His timely article, entitled, “Mental health care in has room for improvement, but will it?” says it all.

Dr. Reddy described a well thought clinical-analytic-management effort by his staff and himself to identify the problem patients of any kind who account in any hospital, especially in the ER departments, for utilizing, or in a more sarcastical-critical way of characterization, “using up,” the largest portion of such services for less than bona fide indiacation for the services they seek. And many of these services are costly procedures, and huge sinkholes of constantly recurring costs that do solve anything and ultimately do not “satisfy” or clnicmally meet the needs of the patients. Drug seeking pains who  claim pain, requires expensive workups by multiple specialistis, imaging studies, and then frustrating nonproductive earnest time spent with them thrying to divert them to more appropriate, and ultimately cost reducing services that appropriate address the problems of drug addiction. Also psychiatrist patients, for whom, like most every other state, there are not enough psychiatri residential or true 24 hour acute inpatient psychiatric beds and services manage and correct the issues that bring them repeatedly into ERs in crisis to get often the only timely help available to them. Dr. Reddy correctly alludes to, but does not specify, one of the historial causes of these typical nationwide problems, that has resulted in shorgages of outpatient services for psychiatric clients. I would inject the fact Republican Governor John Engle through the 1990’s’ reduced the statewide publc mental delivery system to a fraction of its former size. He, for instance, closed all but five of the major psychiatric state funded hospitals in the state. And like just about everywhere else, nowhere near a sliver of replacement community based services were responsibly created by the state. In fact this state was one of the first to start the Wild West, open the doors and let the private large and small business, not clinically oriented, agents of public psychiatric services take over. One would think that had this model worked which was exported by the same cadre of planners in Michgian to other states, notably the very next, North Carolina in 1999-2000 with very similar results except that NC did not close abruptly the four state hospitals, but instead “revamped” the community service universe by eliminating the county by county based mental health care delivery system, which while flawed through inadquate funing and other factors peculiar tot the geography and absurdity of having ONE HUNDRED often rural little bitty counties, and letting the privateeers decied what they would cherry pick and put in place. Buth states as well ass many others now face the second half of the equation of mental health care devliery, providing adequate and large, comprehensive multi-disciplinary relapse prevention of illness, whether it is substance abuse based, psychiatric or that of the developmentally disabled. North Carolina’s now causative “exacerbator,” was reducing almost by two thirds the public psychiatric beds in the whole state instead of closing hospitals, in order to save money.

Dr. Reddy has initiated a pilot project to identify frequent flyer costly mostly non=medically appropirate patients in the ER systems, and to responsibly divert, refer and get them to the services they need but often avoid, to stamp out maintenance of opioid additions through naive physician prescripbing and I suspect drug diversion but finds the outer system that needs in poorly organized and not up to the task.

He notes positively that the succeeding Democratic Governr Jennifer Granholm had to attempt to correct her predecessor’s Cossack approach, and I recall  her having to bravel condemn her political future by having to wring out of the state legislature and ailing economy, $500M to begin reorganize and stabilize the system. Dr. Reddy also refers to the more sensible long term positive approach of the current Governor Rick Snyder’s now comprehensive Mental Health Commision report and impetus of 2014 to begin to further “rehabilitate” the crippled Michigan system.

The reader who is intersted in the current nationahwie crisis of mental health care and its hobbled systems, both private and public would well advised to follow closely the developments in Michigan as the politicians, citizens, patients and their families, and their adovates and the providers, labor now to effect positive appropriate and responsible changes, that WILL cost money no matter what, and see if they are successful and can be a good example of a state’s corrective efforts for the rest of the states faciling simiilar issues.

 

More on Milwaukee county mental health overhaul

I would remind previous, and inform new readers to this blog that I have been loosely covering recently (as this blog is NOT very aged…) the very long sad of the saga of the Milwaukee County’s combined mental health services. These actually started being chronicled in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2000. There is a comprehensive website at that paper’s website that contains the easily listed and read articles since those began in earnest in about 2006 when things really started falling apart there. I am primarily interested in the long term struggle to modernize, and fashion a new sensible integrated system of mental health care delivery in my home state of North Carolina where I have practiced since my training at Duke in 1974 with the exception of 9 years spent in two other states for family reasons.

Continue reading “More on Milwaukee county mental health overhaul”

Unintended Consequences of Mental Health Care Delivery Reform

A small town newspaper can often offer a startlingly accurate portrayal of policy governmental changes not noticed, or reported upon by the mega-media in many locales. One such North Carolina very small regional newspaper is the Laurinburg NC Exchange. This town is likely unknown to 99% of my readers unless you are from northeastern NC, an area to the east of Interstate 85 as it curves north from Durham “The City Of Medicine” toward the state border with Virginia. It has a proud heritage of being a center of Scot (not “Scottish”) culture with an annual festival with the wearing of clan tartans and kilts.

The Laurinburg NC Tartans
The Laurinburg NC Tartans

Just three weeks ago, one of its weekly lady columnists that all Southern papers worth their while seem to have to comment on the higher ordinations of life, Ms. Mary Katherine Murphy, published a most perceptive piece of analysis entitled, “State of Mental Health: Barriers Impede Treatment.” As this is what I blog about in large part, this piece caught the ever roving eye of one of now well trained roving Google searchbots, and snagged this piece for persual. Ms. Murphy may be from a small town area and culture but her piece is well worth reading for anyone interested in this 15-20 year crisis in the  social fabric of our country. I would most strongly recommend it if I had the power to do so, to policy wonks and governmental planners, scholars in research and “think tanks” of all political stripes in this country for thorough pondering. It is that good in its brief but very on target two pages.

Continue reading “Unintended Consequences of Mental Health Care Delivery Reform”

Progress in Washington State in Obtaining Emergency Access to Psychiatric Care

Big Strides for mental health reform, but work remains,” published originally May 16, 2015 as an editorial in the Seattle Times, provides some encouraging news in the national efforts, state by state, to improve incrementally mental health services delivery approaches.

This editorial provides a concise summary and history of the development of the current crisis in that state’s public mental health services that have long been coming. Like so many other states, the economic hits suffered especially since the great housing bubble and “Great Recession” hit the funding of public services ranging from state’s higher education university and public education funding to public mental health care resources, mandated huge budgetary cuts nationwide.

Washington state’s Governor Jay Inslee signed “Joel’s Law,” nearly two weeks ago a bill named for Joel Reuter, a bright, young software engineer whose illness made him believe he was shooting zombies when he was killed in 2013 by Seattle police.

Joel’s Law for the first time gives parents or guardians in Washington state finally, the right to directly appeal to judges for involuntary commitment of a loved one, a power previously reserved for mental-health evaluators. As I had commented in another post concerning Wisconsin’s surprising and highly tragic, misguided laws which permits only police to initiate involuntary commitment petitions for emergently needed psychiatric care, Washington had a very restrictive process to allow commencement of emergency psychiatric care.

The Washington Legislature has moved in exemplary fashion to adapt helpful legislation from other states such as New York and California in creating  new programs to allow judges to mandate outpatient treatment in House Bill 1450 for people with serious mental illness. This sort of program has been utilized to great benefit in many states in the last 10 years or so, including my home state of practice, North Carolina involving “ACT” teams which operate on a public health model of providing follow up and on site, meaning in the patient’s place of residence to supervise compliance with reliable of taking of psychiatric medications to prevent relapse into psychosis, and many kinds of social supports, entree’ into day programs, educational pursuits and keeping up even with their routine medical health maintenance.

This kind of proactive assisted outpatient treatment program can overcome the endemic lack of recognition that many of the chronically mentally ill that they indeed have their condition, which causes them to not take their medications, relapse into psychosis over and over, ending up needing otherwise needless expensive re-hospitalizations. These kinds of programs are from the public health model utilized over decades ago in ensuring tuberculosis patients took their daily curative anti-TB medications. Similarly syphilis was reduced from an all too common scourge to a relatively uncommon sexually transmitted infection by use of public health workers who not only tracked down carriers but also were able to utilize legally supported powers of enforced treatment. Somehow these massively protective and effective treatment approaches were lost in the anti-institutionalization fervor that held sway decades ago with the unintended consequences of not providing for effective outpatient public health like treatment models that would have prevented much of the national mental health crisis we confront daily.

But these kinds of programs are expensive as it takes serious money to pay for these outreach workers, frequent health care worker contact etc. Unfortunately the editorial cited above, are not yet budgeted to their needed levels. The Seattle Times pointed out sadly that perhaps only less than half of the projected $9M cost has been budgeted to date.

Joel Reuter’s father, himself notably, a former Republican Minnesota state lawmaker, was quoted concerning the ongoing reform efforts as stating: “It’s a monumental accomplishment to get both parties and both (legislative) bodies on board for this large of a change,” and that “the system here was so broken.”

My sad comment is that in the past year or so, we have had two legislator or former legislator families suffer the deaths of their sons, one due to his psychotic behaviors forcing lethal intervention, and the other to suicide. It took the grief driven but enormously selfless dedicated efforts of these two men, fathers who lost their sons to psychosis, to prod, shame and lead their states toward enlightened action on the behalf of the severely mentally ill and their families to facilitate securing even emergency psychiatric intervention. This goes against the political ethos and ideology that this country has suffered under for the last 30 years; that of cutting taxes no matter the human costs. Hopefully the public is finally catching on to these nationwide mistakes that this cruel approach has cost us in many areas, slashing teachers’ salaries, cutting our investments and support of our stellar state educational systems. All this has been under the banner of the self proclaimed boasting of resisting “raising taxes.” I submit that the time for this cruel shortsighted approach is approaching the end of the time when this was true and needed. But even now in this slow recovery, novel revenue streams are waiting to be enacted and tapped that would not be as onerous as our dogmatic politicians would have use believe. This ideology itself is becoming too costly to maintain for the health of our country in multiple arenas of essential functioning.

It is time for more enlightened leadership that politicians love to espouse but few are able to demonstrate in times of our need.

 

A State Hospital for Sale

 

Dorothea Dix Hospital
View of Dorothea Dix Hospital, Raleigh NC

One of the former three truly old, historical state hospitals in North Carolina, Dorothea Dix Hospital in the state’s capital, Raleigh, is now cleared for completion of its sale to the city of Raleigh. The huge, many hundred acre site, established in the late 1800’s, and named after one of the early American crusaders for improvement in custodial (institutional) mental health care, Dorothea Dix, will proceed with its long debated and fought over sale. The sale will total somewhere around $52 million according to a very recent news story by WRAL ABC Channel 11, of Raleigh.

Why is this of note in the world of mental health reform in this country?

1. There are literally many dozens of old languishing state hospital properties and campuses in this country; many are almost unbelievably operating after perhaps an average lifespan of nearly 150 years, while many others are abandoned ghostly properties. If you are curiious about these architectural gems, or, monstrous relics of bygone eras of ghastly cruel inhumane care, depending upon your beliefs and attitudes toward the always controversial history of mental health care, please search on my favorite bookseller and go to reading search site, Amazon.com and look for books on asylums and state hospitals in America. Fascinating reading for those interested in this sector of esoteric social history if ever there was one.

So many of these properties need to be sold, preserved or whatever, now and in the future as the still active facilities gradually are “phased out,” and replaced by more modern facilities or closed altogether, depending on the need for inpatient public psychiatric beds in each state.

2. They represent a real source of monies, for state and regional/municipal coffers that could be put to good use.

I have been aware that very few of these properties around the country have been sold and converted to helpful assets or capital. There are a number, though honestly speaking, not many, websites that catalog the numbers of abandoned former state mental hospitals slowly proceeding to ruin through abandonment and fiscal and physical neglect. One website through the genealogy organization of RootsWeb, lists perhaps most of the former and current American state psychiatric hospitals state by state. And it unbelievably it offers information on the phenomenon of the “Asylum Tourist.” Sheesh. I appreciate historic sites and beautiful woodwork, antique furniture as much as a geek can. My late father was a master woodworker and proud owner of a “ShopSmith” all his adult life. [If you do not know what that is, well, Google it, or, don’t bother, it really is information will not make you stand out anywhere except at a woodworker’s convention, or in perhaps a Trivia Pursuit championship. But then again, I doubt even the latter.

State hospitals always have and had fantastic craftsmanship, furniture, architecture, woodwork etc. Much has been salvaged from closed state hospitals. If you are a “preservationist” like Europe seems to have been in their cultures for hundreds of years, this stuff matters. That’s why we go to Rome, to Paris, to Prague, to see the incomparable buildings, art, statues, gardens and on and on. But if you are a modern, [wasteful?] devotee of the disposable, rapidly obsolescent approach to “things,” then all this is likely drivel and unimportant. I certainly am in the former camp, the older I get.

Another historical website devoted to this kind of history, details the history of the “Kirkbride” architecture of state hospitals that totally dominated such institutions for nearly 3/4 of a century. Students of architecture and architectural history still study these, visit them and even go on “tours” of these sites around the country. [I know that sounds perhaps very weird to most, but bear with me].

So I have pondered in recent years, what could old state hospitals be converted to? This is my partial list of charitable causes I could see some of these grand and incredibly sturdy structures devoted to:

  • community college facilities
  • public school educational facilities
  • subsidized housing especially for the elderly, as there are bathrooms galore, and these places were hospitals for goodness sake
  • public governmental offices [don’t laugh, check out the connection between the former St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington DC and the Department of Homeland Security…
  • public museums

Now marketing a state hospital even in the best of condition is not an easy task. They are often located in not the most economically active metropolitan centers; they are mostly located out in the boondocks, the isolated countryside, as part of their raison de etre, was to get the disturbed and disturbing mental patient, the insane, out of the public eye. Who wants a facility with many buildings, and hundreds of rooms out of the middle of nowhere? Raleigh, North Carolina’s Dorothea Dix Hospital is one of the fairly rare exceptions, being located in a major modern city.

They are all truly ageing physical plants. Most of the inactive hospitals, if not almost all, have deteriorated markedly through neglect for a few years to decades. They would take huge amounts of money to rehabilitate and bring up to modern building codes.

Though all of them were really sturdily built, they were never the most energy efficient structures even with their three feet thick walls and no wood in their make-up to attract the pest control companies’ best friend, the termite. It is not unusual for an operating state hospital to have utility bills of hundreds of thousands of dollars a month, even in the scaled down facilities. Thier heating plants are aged, and almost always belong to the steam non-electrical eras of heating.

I now am witness to a state’s dilemma of what to do, at a hoped for helpful profit, with a soon to be closed ageing state hospital. How does one market such a huge property that is not a brand spanking new outlet mall on a busy inter-metropolitan interstate highway, that will mint money the week it opens?

At least in Raleigh, Dorothea Dix herself, I think would be pleased with the coming sale of her namesake institution. It will become property of Raleigh, the state will gain a sizeable amount of monies that can be put to good use, and the city of Raleigh will receive a new very large regional mixed use business park out of the deal. That appears to be far better than the site becoming a huge, slowly deteriorating eyesore and environmental blight. A good deal all around.

 

 

Typical Example of a mental health system crisis

The first newspaper series I recall reading about a state’s then system wide mental health crisis was in the 1990’s in the venerable Detroit Free Press. It is no longer available online unfortunately; it fell victim I guess, to the declining fortunes of that paper a number of years ago when it nearly went out of existence and went to publishing only three weekdays during the week. The series came after the governorship of John Engler who had to cope with the decline of the economic fortunes of that state in the 1990’s when the Big Three automakers fell on hard times and the state of Michigan suffered tremendously as much as any “Rust Belt” state at that time of disappearing manufacturing jobs. Governor Engler was one of the first governors who took a severe economic axe to human services, as well as many other state funded services, in order to keep the state going. Michigan was dear to my heart as I had attended college and medical school there and I had close friends there. One friend kept me in the loop by sending me paper cut-outs of articles from the Free Press documenting the devastating effect upon mental health services. Institutions, both academic and public state hospitals were closed that I had worked in. I found it all very hard to believe and it stimulated then my interest in “mental health reform,” that later hit my home state beginning only a few years later.  As an historical, geek aside, this was early in the days of newspapers going online and during the series on that state’s mental healthcare revolution; later the series was online but now no longer available. But this series was almost prescient as it foretold the crises other states were likely to face and how the severe but likely economically inescapable wrecking ball approach to funding in mental healthcare delivery, would affect patients, soceity, hospitals, law enforcement, jails, courts and practitioners.

A more current and still available online newspaper series on this same topic, is from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, a wonderful paper. It is entitled: “Chronic Crisis: A System That Doesn’t Heal.” This series appeared in 2013 but if the reader follows the above link, you will find articles referenced also in the same newspaper that go back to 2006. I highly recommend this first lead article and its successors also found linked at the above site for further reading. It has the all too familiar stories of human tragedies, patients not helped for various systemic reasons, who died, their grieving families, analyses of the circumstances and cases, etc. If one has read any of these genre of series that are now appearing in the media now for the last several years, one has seen too many of these accounts already.

This series however, has a few features that make it exemplary and worth reading if you are interested in this social issue. It has presented a fascinating portrait of how local circumstances and even local legislation and lawsuits, one referenced in particular, that have either hamstrung systems, approaches and practitioners, or local differences in approaches to emergency services that surprised me and were new and issues I had not conceived of. I am like everyone else, still primarily local and parochial in my views and unconsciously, assuming that laws regarding, for example, involuntary commitments for mental patients urgently-emergently needing mandated care, worked the same. This series disabused me of my naive stance in a hurry.

As a “spoiler” to the reader, I will highlight the one issues that surprised me the most of all. In Wisconsin, only police can initiate an involuntary mental health petition process. In my state, any adult can initiate a psychiatric “petition.” To quote the article referenced above: 1) “Wisconsin is one of only five states that require police officers to detain a patient in an emergency;” 2) “It is a system built in reaction to state laws drafted by public defenders in the mid-1970’s that stressed the need to ‘avoid commitment at all costs’–laws that put the focus on the right to refuse treatment, not how best to provide it.'”

To afford the reader some helpful contrast, in my home and practice state, any adult who has first hand knowledge of the imminent danger to self or others on the part of the petitioned person, can initiate a mental health petition. This means that family who witness a valid and deserving need for emergency treatment, such as a credible suicide threat or act by their family member, can initiate a petition and quickly mobilize an evaluation and possible treatment. In such states’ statutory process, there is still a very strong check and balance system reviewing the evaluation, commitment and certification of treatment process that is mandated, open and transparent, and, provides for appointment of responsible and skilled counsel for every petitioned individual. A court proceeding for review of all these steps is mandated routinely. So petitioned persons are not “railroaded” as one could infer or fear. Just the opposite in fact and practice.

In future installments, I will go on to review other articles and sources of the now 15-20 years of mental health reform efforts. One will come to appreciate that even with the local variations that is unique in Wisconsin as so well documented by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, many of the issues are the same from state to state.

 

Introduction to Mental Health Reform in North Carolina

Mental Health Reform began in North Carolina partially out of economic necessity. Other states had had to do so in the Midwest during the decade of the 1990’s for similar reasons, the decline of manufacturing in the so-called “Rust Belt,” but one example used mental health reform undeniably as a nearly vindictive budget slashing measure, singling out more than any other major expenditure category of a state budget for drastic cuts.

North Carolina’s impetus was truly largely driven by a perfect storm [no pun intended but it is one unfortunately nonetheless as the reader will quickly see below] confluence of unexpected and massive budgetary hits to the NC state coffers. In 1999-2000 along with a number of other segments of the economy, the “Dot Com” bubble burst nationally. This affected NC severely as North Carolina had long been building an information economic powerhouse through especially the Triangle area’s [Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh which are all within 8 or 15 miles of each depending on which leg of the triangle connecting the three cities you measure] universities, Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University, respectively. NC State at the time and still is the most technically driven of the three and is now beginning to rival Rensselaer, MIT, Georgia Tech and Cal Poly in terms of research, award winning faculty, technical centers and spin off high tech companies. In fact, NC State had already established a new technical campus, the Centennial Campus adjacent to NC State’s campus and on the way to Research Triangle Park toward Durham. That campus has continued to massively grow in the years since the dot com recovery, for instance now housing the headquarters of Red Hat, the world’s leading commercial Linux distribution. This illustrates how much of an economic vortex the RTP {Research Triangle Park) is, generating hundreds of millions of dollars into the state economy. When the Dot Com bubble burst in those days when idiotic Internet companies were starting up, having no real product but promising getting groceries delivered to your house (now perhaps closer to reality), being overvalued in the stock market by unimaginably inflated multiples, the RTP of North Carolina suffered greatly, more so than Silicon Valley which was older, more established, larger and deeper. Jobs by the thousands were lost which were very high paying. High tech personnel left the state, state income tax revenues took a substantial hit. All this was a preview on a mini-scale of what was to come in the 2008 mortgage housing and financial derivatives scandal and bubble/Great Recession, partially still with us.

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