But this article illustrates the Herculean tasks that states face in transitioning themselves from the traditional custodial role utilizing large massive hospitals and viewing treatment as often lifelong or at least so long that it may as well be lifelong, to a system aiming at re-integrating the chronically mentally ill safe enough to be returned to the communities and constructing complete new and entirely different systems of housing and care for literally thousands of persons within spans of a relatively few years. There are no simple answers in any quarter and the task which may have been viewed as achievable within approximate task-timer periods clearly is proving to be greater, harder, more coslty and complicated than likely almost anyone could have imagined.At the least, enforcement by the “feds,” may have to consist of extending time periods of effort to the states and partnerships that help with costs and perhaps even approaches not yet widely appreciated by any of us.
Since the 1400’s, the town of Gheel (also spelled Geel) Belguim has done an incredible “community project,” that as a psychiatrist I have read about periodically, and marveled at for decades. In short through an unbelievably improbable religious fluke of an event of historical Christianity, started a custom of taking in the mentally ill by families. In Gheel, families would care for the mentally disabled for as long as they could. If the parents of the caretaking family died, and the disabled ‘adopted’ member of the family was still alive, the grown children would take over their care. The system was unique in the world and still is. In fact, in some ways because of its historical longevity, it has in some ways become stronger. All this occurred centuries before any semblance of modern mental health care and it worked. Of course some of the mentally ill were so disturbed they could not be housed in families’ home but most could. The above link takes on to one of the best all around explanations of this social experiment, namely a Wikipedia article. In modern times, hundreds of social researchers and mental health professionals have made pilgrimages to Gheel to observe and study this centuries-old social ‘experiment.’
In an article entitled, “Unique programs offer people with mental illness a place in their communities, published recently in the New Haven Register, a somewhat similar social good work was profiled in the Frederick VA area, with photographs from the Washington Post. I have excerpted the following pictures and captions from that article, taken by the Post photographer and given due credit.
This subject and set of events is dated, and I offer my apologies to the reader. But this offering will serve to remind what can go wrong when in the course of the mental health reform process, things can go very wrong when the health care sector succumbs to criminal insufficiencies in their immediate continuum of care system, gives in ethically to a dishonest set of circumstances, does not fight back and falls back upon devising equally criminal ways of coping and inventiveness instead of advocating at any cost for their powerless patients who are dependent upon them for everything and anything they need to start over and begin the recovery process outside life in the hospital.
Over two years ago the Los Angles Times reported on a story that I thought I would never see again in my practicing lifetime, that of “dumping patients.” I practiced in Arizonaover 15 years ago and saw the now extinct Charter hospitals do this when a patient’s health insurances would be exhausted after a month or long stay in the free-standing hospital and then be “discharged to the street” literally and abruptly. I was witness to this process as our hosptal system having a rather compassionate approach to psychiatric care would willingly accept these unfortunate and truly traumatized persons when their desperate families brought to our admission doorsteps, those of the Camelback hospitals, once a group of psychiatric hospitals in the Phoenix and Scottsdale areas, started in the 1940’s and in the days of affordable psychiatric healthcare, a nationally recognized system for its superb quality of care. These dumped persons from the for-profit hospitals, still suffering acute symptoms such as severe unremitting depressions, suicidal impulses or pressing urges and thoughts, would be admitted no questions asked–at a loss to the hospital and to us attendings who took them on as inpatients, not expecting to be paid at all, and saw this as part of our responsibilities and part of universe of care we should offer out of our senses of service and ethics. I saw no practitioner at the Camelback system of hospitals ever turn down such a patient or take on their care resentfully.
The process of discharge in modern inpatients psychiatric care literally begins with a day or two of admission, not so that we can hurry up the process, but so that we can get a head start in lining up the needed outpatient resources, financial support, sometimes a place to live for a homeless person, sometimes family resources for a homeless minor, but always for a “best fit” between the patient and the all important team of team of therapist and psychiatrist. Often during the patient’s inpatient “do-over,” we would have the prospective therapist and future psychiatric come to visit the patient in person to have a get-acquainted session to make sure there was a good personality fit and rapport among them all, thereby giving often these persons brutalized by the “for profit” systems genuine hope that after discharge, whenver all arrived at a consensus decision made together, there would be the help ready in place to support them, giving them genuine hope instead of another trauma.
The article I came across recently in my constantly Google searchbot curating system for developments and trends inthe massive nationwide effort at changing our mental health care delivery system for all for the better was in the Los Angeles Times, entitled “S.F. sues to recoup costs for patients ‘dumped’ by Nevada hospital,” published ‘way back” in September 10, 2013. Its dated historical time of occurrence does not make it any less timely and happens to follow up on my previous post, which documented the emerging and alleged corruption of a privatized (read also for profit but sanctioned by the state who handled over inpatient psychiatric care to a national money making hospital system, to deliver service and make profit like the experiment with privatization of state prison systems who crowed about saving money to state legislatures, and of course pocketing the difference.) Well that did not go so well in a number of instances and the practice is still be re-examined in states who went in this direction.
The LA Times article though documented simply horrendous new heights of patient care callousness in patients at hospitals in Nevada, at discharge, from the Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas, often by bus with no resources, not provision at all for any outpatient care or personnel to San Francisco. The investigation by the newspaper the Sacremento Bee, started small but uncovered a scam/scandal of monstrous proportions and scale. It was found that about FIFTEEN HUNDRED patients had been shipped off to cities and towns in California over the previous five years. The investigation at that time was headed up by San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera.
Those days were a unique confluence of corporate greed, and the growing appearance in the 1980’s of the seeds of the crisis we now face: the national shortage of adequate outpatient resources to replace which that hospital, especially the state public psychiatric hospitals could furnish even if at times, it bordered on “institutionalization.”
The solution is obvious and in everyone’s sight and radar. Outpatient resources and its infrastructure must be constructed nationwide, and governors and the no more taxes ideology of the present day and last 0 years must confront the reality that this costs money. Period. Good luck all you politicians trapped by your ideologies that do not square with reality. You need a paradigm shift in the biggest way and it will painful for your as you have to rethink your dearly held assumptions and shibboleths.