Discharging Patients to Bleak Destinations

May 11, 2017

In today’s AJC Online publication of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, entitled: “Deaths, delays paint grim picture of Georgia mental health reformState still discharging patients to extended-stay motels, homeless shelter” authored by Allan Judd of the AJC, a despicable, but tried and true shameful expedient method of discharging and placing discharged psychiatric patients has come to light once again. Before I identify it, I would like to cite a few of its historical predecessors that were also once ‘standard practice,’ that tried to make one segment of our long “broken mental health system” work.

Several years ago, a private psychiatric hospital in Nevada gained notoriety in the news by the discovery that for two years or so, it had been discharging chronically mentally ill patients to the ‘foreign’ territory of California. Patients would be given a starter set of clothes and belongings in a suitcase, an amount of cash money whose exact amount I can not at this moment recall, and plunked down after a short plane flight from Henderson NV I believe to the airport and streets of San Francisco as a means of “placement.” This is of course set off much moralizing, scandal, and opprobrium, corrective and punitive action was taken and the practice stopped.

Now a story emerges from Georgia that it is doing something close to that by discharging “mental patients” from its state hospitals to makeshift former motels and shelters with just a bus fare token and little else,…like follow up, a ready and waiting clinical post-discharge treatment team and program? Perhaps, perhaps not.

This also reminds me of the practice of New York approximately two decades ago, in which such patients were discharged to welfare hotels; these were abandoned, closed, bankrupted, foreclosed, gone out of business hotels from another era who could not compete anymore in the glitzy market of tony New York hotels. These places would be filled with ‘dischargees’ from prisons and psychiatric hospitals with no other suitable resources, families or homes they could turn to. New York as I recall was indeed treating these unfortunate folks with outreach mental health, public health and social work teams struggling to help keep them stable in such grim and lonely settings, but these ‘placements’ quickly became cesspools of crime and corruption as the predatory types, the criminal wolves of society learned to prey upon these defenseless persons at the first of every month when their benefits checks would arrive. [In the days before automatic electronic deposit had taken hold].

New York City Police had to deal with this and it was a nightmare and a number of deaths and tragedies brought this practice to the corrective glare of the light of investigative focus.

Those detestable practices likely had to be employed since states, as they closed aging, falling down, decrepit state hospitals without funding adequate decent housing on a massive social scale for this displaced population.

The ironic similarity to refugee camps in the Middle East sprang easily again to my mind. Any person without stable resources, a supportive surrounding community of “friends and neighbors,” an adequate income and food supply, medical care and all the ordinary trappings of a life in a familiar community that most of us take for granted, and has only as many possessions as they can carry on their heads, or in a duffel bag or black plastic garbage bag or a ‘borrowed’ grocery store cart, qualifies as a “refugee,” in my mind. In fact, to stretch this wretched analogy further, we have our own internal large population of “Syrian refugees,” in our country though we largely do not realize it on a collective national consciousness. Except the “relief” workers do, who struggle valiantly to help care for these unfortunates against truly daunting odds.

As they say in real estate, “location, location, location,” I would add the phrase “funding, funding, funding,” to this national disgrace. This sector of our nation’s life and citizens needs new “infrastructure rebuilding” as much or more so than our fabled Interstate Highway System conceived and begun during President Eisenhower’s era.

 Rather than send the reader off to the article via a hyperlink I have decided to excerpt portions of the article for the reader to read and ponder first hand:

Deaths, delays paint grim picture of Georgia mental health reform

State still discharging patients to extended-stay motels, homeless shelters

Posted: 7:31 a.m. Thursday, May 11, 2017


Mentally ill patients often left Georgia’s state psychiatric hospitals with just a bus token and directions to a homeless shelter.

For people with disabilities, these same institutions became places of permanent confinement.

This is the system that Georgia, under pressure from the federal government, pledged seven years ago to radically overhaul. But with a court-enforced deadline fast approaching, the state increasingly seems unlikely to fulfill its promises.

Georgia has less than 14 months – until June 30, 2018 – to comply with a settlement it reached with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2010. The agreement followed an investigation that concluded the state had systematically violated the rights of people with mental illness and developmental disabilities.

But the state continues to discharge patients with mental illness to places where they are unlikely to get psychiatric treatment: extended-stay motels, for instance, and even the massive Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter in midtown Atlanta. All patients with disabilities are supposed to be moved into group homes or other community-based facilities, but at the current rate of progress, the state might not meet that requirement for another 10 years.

As officials try to comply with the agreement, they also are investigating an alarming number of deaths in community-based treatment: about 350 since 2014. Those apparently include five dozen suicides.

A court-appointed monitor credits the state with making many promised improvements, especially regarding crisis intervention and other services for people with mental illness.

Still, a grim picture emerges from the monitor’s most recent report, as well as from interviews and documents reviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

It is “absolutely essential” that the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability “act with urgency to meet its obligations,” the monitor, Elizabeth Jones, wrote in late March in a report to U.S. District Judge Charles Pannell. “Although there has been noteworthy progress in certain discrete areas of implementation, the reform efforts require additional diligent and effective actions if compliance is to be achieved within the anticipated timeframe.”

Department officials declined to be interviewed.

In a statement, the agency did not say whether it expects to meet the deadlines next year. But the department said it is moving at “a reasonable pace” to move. “Transitions are carefully and individually planned to meet the unique needs and preferences of each individual and to provide the best opportunities for success in the community.”

The agency said it welcomed the monitor’s “reflections and recommendations.”

The Justice Department began investigating Georgia’s psychiatric hospitals in 2007 after a Journal-Constitution series, “A Hidden Shame,” exposed a pattern of poor medical care, abuse, neglect and bad management that had caused dozens of unnecessary deaths.

Transforming a historically troubled mental health system has been a slower process than perhaps anyone envisioned when state and federal authorities put together a plan. Already, a judge extended the deadline for compliance once, from 2015 to 2018.

The state has spent millions of dollars and reorganized the bureaucracy that oversees the hospitals and community treatment. It also closed two state hospitals, in Rome and Thomasville. All that’s left of Central State Hospital, the notorious facility in Milledgeville that once warehoused as many as 12,000 people, is a unit for people committed through the criminal justice system.

The state complied with hundreds of provisions from the settlement agreement with ease. But several issues have proved insoluble.

For instance, despite promising to provide “supported” housing to 9,000 people with mental illness, the state has managed to find such homes for fewer than 2,500 former hospital patients, according to the monitor’s report.

Vouchers that pay for the housing have been “a game changer for the people who have gotten the housing vouchers,” said Talley Wells, who runs Atlanta Legal Aid’s disability integration project. “But the reality is we still have a long way to go to complete the settlement. The state made a commitment to 9,000 people to provide this game-changing housing.”

In past years, the state hospitals, especially Georgia Regional Hospital/Atlanta, sent scores of newly discharged patients to locations where continued treatment seemed unlikely: homeless shelters, street corners, even an abandoned van on a street in Atlanta’s West End.

But from 2016 to 2017, according to the monitor’s report, the hospitals cut discharges to homeless shelters by half. At the same time, however, the number of patients placed in extended-stay motels quadrupled.

The patients typically leave state hospitals with appointments for additional mental-health treatment; in Atlanta, it’s usually at a clinic operated by Grady Memorial Hospital. But most patients discharged to shelters and motels never show up for their appointments, the monitor found. Some return to state hospitals again and again.

The lack of housing sometimes contributes to deaths and injuries, state records show.

In November 2014, records show, a staff member at a community-based mental health center promised a client she would complete paperwork to get him a housing voucher. Almost a month passed before the staff member followed through. By then, the client was homeless – and had killed himself.

Finding appropriate places for developmentally disabled patients has been just as difficult.

Since 2010, the state has moved more than 500 disabled patients out of state hospitals. But in the year ending June 30, 2016, officials managed to transfer just 26 patients and as many as 10 times that many remain in state hospitals. (The monitor’s report listed the number as 284, while the state said it is 204.)

The state has continually struggled to find high-quality community settings, especially for patients who have complex medical needs.

As the Journal-Constitution reported last month, many patients have ended up in privately run group homes where inadequate staffing, poor training, and incessant cost-control measures have put them at risk. Between 2014 and 2016, 53 people died in Georgia under the care of just two for-profit group home operators. At least 46 of the deaths were unexpected and, according to state reports, may have been preventable.

A state panel called the Community Mortality Review Committee examines each death. Minutes from the committee’s meetings show that at least two dozen disabled people choked to death on food from 2014 to 2016. Others died from bowel obstructions, a condition that is supposed to be closely monitored.

State officials redacted most details of individual deaths. But the committee’s minutes show that in one case in 2015, for example, the staff of a group home had not been trained on what foods would be too difficult for a particular patient to swallow. The state left the resident alone during breakfast with food she couldn’t swallow, and she choked to death.

The deaths show the need for better screening and more oversight as transfers from the state hospitals continue, advocates for people with developmental disabilities said.

“This is all about making sure people have the supports they need to lead meaningful lives in their communities,” said Alison Barkoff, one of the lawyers who represented advocates during the state and federal negotiations over the settlement agreement. “It’s not just moving people for the sake of moving people.”

Barkoff said the state should either fix problems immediately, if it can, or acknowledge it will need to extend the settlement agreement past the June 2018 deadline.

But what happens if the deadline passes without the state’s full compliance is not at all clear.

Under President Barack Obama’s administration, the Justice Department aggressively pushed the state to act. At one point, federal lawyers asked a judge to hold the state in contempt of court for failing to live up to its promises. That request led to the extension of the settlement agreement.

Advocates worry that President Donald Trump’s Justice Department may show little interest in enforcing Obama-era settlements such as the one with Georgia. While career attorneys in the department’s civil rights division remain on the job, the division’s top positions, which are political appointments, are unfilled.

With the state so far from complying with the settlement agreement, the matter may come to a head next year before a federal judge.

“I can’t imagine they will have met their obligations,” said Ruby Moore, executive director of the Georgia Advocacy Office, a federally mandated agency that promotes the rights of disabled and mentally ill people. “There is just too much to be done. They’re working hard, but I don’t think they have enough time.”


 

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.

Continue reading “New State Hospital Already Destined to be Closed”

Virginia’s Mental Health Reform Effort

In a recent editorial, the Virginia News & Advance newspaper published on May 29, 2016, entitled “Trying to Remake State’s Mental Health System,” Virginia’s commendable mental health reform efforts were enumerated in a concise fashion. Virginia’s efforts are somewhat unique in the country’s landscape concerning this issue which now dominating many American state legislatures.

Virginia’s efforts, similar to a few others states’ efforts, have been singularly prompted by a highly publicized tragedy, that of the death of a young adult, Gus Deeds. What is very different is that his father is a mental health professional, and a Virginia state legislator.

This young man while psychotic  tried to stab the father, Craige Deeds. He was held in a local hospital emergency room for several days while awaiting a referral and placement in either a private or public state psychiatric hospital. There was no bed to be had and he was released a few days later. Shortly thereafter, he suicided. His father, state senator Deeds Ph.D. has made this a personal and public service legislative cause and mission to author and see enacted to address the deficits in Virginia’s mental health system to prevent another tragedy.

State Senator Deeds’ efforts have been very well placed and appropriate. However, even he has had difficulty in seeing this well crafted and reasonable legislation passed as the above-cited editorial, unfortunately points out. This is emblematic of many state’s efforts. The limiting factors are budgetary and many state legislatures, governors, and legislators are finding it very hard to find and devote the long needed monies to mental health reform. Some states have made creditable progress such as my home and practice state of North Carolina. But it remains quite hard to address the funding issues in many states that have permitted the development of state mental health system crises that we see presently almost everywhere. One can only hope that these difficulties can be overcome as efforts continue.

 

Mississippi budget cuts to close psychiatric beds

In a very recent article, “Mississippi budget cuts to close psychiatric beds,” published in the Clarion-Ledger newspaper on may 10, 2016, it is reported that Mississippi will close a number of treatment units and beds in the state’s public mental health and substance abuse facilities.

The article details that this has come about as a result of the state’s legislature deciding to cut funding by some 4.4% or $8.3M imposed by the current governor Phil Bryant’s yardstick, something called”performance- based budgeting process.”

The article goes on to detail a number of state-funded services that will be cut or reduced in size.  Such targeted/designated services include inpatient mental health services and residential and community-based substance abuse treatment programs. The reader may follow the link above to read exactly what services will be trimmed or shut down altogether.

This is a rare opportunity for the concerned mental health/substance abuse services policy wonk, observer of both the national and regional scenes in such matters, to monitor what happens in the coming  few years in this locale, the state of Mississippi.

Further, it affords almost an experimental laboratory, to watch the consequences unfold. One will be able to see if this has a positive influence on the overall “mental health of the state,” or negative consequences. To reveal this writer’s own bias from having watched many other states do the same since the early 1990’s,  it will test the hypothesis that this action likely will repeat the past history of such efforts , namely to cause predictable negative results.

These results in other states have included: 1) increase in the mentally ill populations in local jails; 2) increased waiting lists in ERs around the state of acutely disturbed public psychiatric patients in crisis who need inpatient hospital services; 3) perhaps an increase in public incidents involving the chronically mentally ill of both a minor nuisance variety or major ones of tragic proportions; 4) increase in deaths of the mentally ill through suicide; 5) increase in the deaths of mentally ill persons through extreme public law enforcement actions due to the more disturbed and the communities not having a timely access to treatment; 6) more grieving families and tales in the local media as time goes on of possibly preventable tragedies; 7) increased strain on private treatment facilities ranging from private hospital based psychiatric units to hospital ERs, to the university medical school based psychiatric services.

The reader is invited to watch Mississippi as this made for observation stage in the ongoing struggle with provisioning public mental health services plays out in the media and locales of Mississippi to see how this turns out. I know this observer will watching with keen interest and growing concern and foreboding.

 

 

Criminal Discharges When There Is No Outpatient Infrastructure

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Shift of Mental Health Care to Jails

Once again the author finds himself balefully writing about the continuing appalling trends in mental health inpatient care nationally. However, I am moved to do only when I see a very good reference that I feel the reader interested in this vital topic, should be alerted to.

A recent article in the news blog, Vindy.com of November 24th, 2015 showed that it does not take a nationally prestigious paper or news sources to put out a superb summary and analysis of a subject pertinent to this topic. In an article entitled, “Mental health care in Ohio shifts from hospitals to jails,” written by Peter H. Milliken [milliken@vindy.com] in Youngstown Ohio, the issues were as clearly spelled out as I have ever seen.

That author started that “”in the past five decades, state-run psychiatric hospitals have been phased out with funds shifted into each community cereate outpatient care and support services for those afflicted with any of a number of mental illnesses.” He adds tellingly: “As in all complicated cases, the result has been a complicated stream of causes and effects,” and I would add ‘unintended effects’ that have marked ill conceived mental health reform efforts nationwide over the last 15-20 years. The three basic mistakes were 1) way too rapid closing of albeit aging state mental health hospitals and beds, 2) grossly inadequate replacement of those inpatient beds, the thinking being in the minds of frankly ignorant and misinformed ideology on the part of state level mental health planners and legislators, that the beds were not needed and should be “liberated” [my term] bourne out of the “de-institutionalization” misguided ideology arising in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and 3) the totally insufficient of funds to cover the community based needs as a result of the closure of inpatient, BOTH public and private.

The author gives an example of a state hospital closing 19 years before, the Woodside Hospital, and its surrounding county gradually absorbing what sounds like an inordinate number of extreme mental patients who had no place else to go. He states tellingly, “We’re in a crisis for state hospitals,…we have days when there are no hospital beds for our clients,” quoting Duane Piccririlli, executive director of Mahoning County, whose jail had to pick up the slack.

The article goes on to describe what happened in stark broad overview terms. The state of Ohio previously had 19 state hospitals but now has only six. Patient shifting as it is sometimes, called has occurred in  a massive way from non-existent state hospital beds to jail beds. And it costs the state more in most studies to house such patients in jails than even so called “expensive” or “labor intensive care,” and the care if far poorer and more and more marked by preventable tragedies.