More on Milwaukee County mental health services facility crisis

On June 18, 20 the able reporter Ms. Meg Kissinger for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper that has been superbly documenting this now 15 year old story, wrote of the latest repair efforts by the County to fashion a feasible plan to resurrect and restructure this facility and its services to its clients. She documents the new effort in her article, “County considers closing Mental Health Complex, privatizing care.” In my distant uninformed opinion they do deserve a lot of credit for toiling under years of stress, failed plans, recurrent crises and scandals. If anything they are to be commended for long term public service efforts, through I am sure, multiple sets of officials.

As it is reported currently, there are a number of short and long term plans to try to create better services. Ms. Kissinger details this in her latest article, “County considers closing Mental Health Complex, privatizing care.”

The major elements of the plan appear to be to get the county government out of the operation of the center and the judgment appears to be that this level of system change is needed to have a chance of success and improvement when the newspaper’s own series, “Chronic Crisis: A System That Doesn’t Heal,” referred to in recent posts has failed in part because of poor political leadership, division and poor follow through as well it appears just poor paltry efforts at reorganization inadequate to the task.

The main elements appear to be: 1) “turning over direct patient care to a private organization as is done in most other counties across the country;” 2) delivering psychiatric services at two separate locations at two different and hopefully dispersing and easing access to services; 3) including multiple services at each “access hub,” including a mental health clinic, peer-run services (where patients having achieved high levels of recovery and stability can help give on the spot support and guidance to new and continuing patients–a very effective mode of service and means of helping sustain compliance and continuing attendance and contact; 4) intensive  outpatient services, 5) a crisis line, 6) care coordination with I expect designated staff specialized in obtaining, scheduling and referring to diversified services, long known as case managers, essential parts of any such outpatient mental health organization that did not exist decades ago; 7) and a medication management clinic. Additionally, and very significantly, the long nationally neglected truly essential component of local inpatient crisis psychiatric care, a 60 bed inpatient unit “for patients that need around-the-clock care will be included. On the face of it, this sounds like a very well thought out plan.

Further the article notes that apparently the plan was put together with extensive consultation with all the needed stakeholders essential to the enterprise, patients, families, advocated, clinicians. Workers and current clinicians are to be afforded apparently every opportunity to retain their jobs and continue to work. In past efforts I have witnessed in a number of states, the private organizations would come in and ape Frank Lorenzo’s original model with bankrupting and reorganizing Continental Airlines in the 1980’s of essentially firing everyone, then making them re-apply for their jobs, and then paying them if they consented to be rehired–at far lower salaries wages, taking cruel advantage of their needs like everyone else not inherently wealthy like big Cheeses like Mr. Lorenzo, to go back to work at any cost to themselves, establishing the model of screwing the working class (I now disavow being a radical, Commie, or goof ball Socialist or any of the other epithets used to discredit anyone who notes the consequences to now depleted “middle working class).”

What I have seen happen over and over in now TWO different states who reorganized their “mental health center” based systems with this costs at any cost rehiring approach and vile treatment of committed clinical staffs, is that many of the staff who face losing up to say 40% of their pay, in many instances, much of their retirement and vestments, is that they quit and move on….Then the private corporate re-organizers happily, as this HAS seemingly been their intended plan, hire new clinicians, like Mr. Lorenzo did, desperate to get jobs in a recession economy, willing to settle for lower pay, but also altering job descriptions and required clinical qualifications to a lower level, from  Master’s levels counselors, social workers and psychologists, to those with 2 or 4 year Associates’ or Bachelors’ degrees, far far less actual patient centered exposure and clinical experience and “rotations,” as those are very expensive for these lower level training programs to provide, and the privatized “behavioral centers,” end up with often very less qualified staff who nonetheless work hard and are happy to be fulfilling their own mental health worker aspirations. Later many of them find they have been locked into near permanent lower pay servitude with not much of a ladder of career and earning power advancement, a cruel but now pervasive employment practice in so many industries. Quality of care suffers.

Other cost cutting measures usually follow. Less well trained “prescribers,” and experienced therapists with less experience than Masters’ level, and PhDs and MDs manage acute and chronically mentally ill patients’ psychotherapeutic and psychopharmcological treatment needs. Patients are seen in medication groups instead of individual as much as possible to further save money, are seen often only on walk in basis in crisis. Patients are smart, and they migrate to the ERs where they can see more skilled practitioners, and get better care and we end up with mess we have now, patients flooding local hospitals’ ERs.

One cautionary note and quote in Ms. Kissinger’s June article is by the County Executive Mr. Chris ABele, who was quoted as stating: “Uncontrollable expenses significantly influence the cost of doing business as a county entity.” This kind of mantra used to be heralded as justifiable and ethical as it was long repeated all over the county in this now overwhelmingly utilized of mental health local system of care delivery, would save costs by ‘getting the meddlesome government out of it.’ What has evolved instead is that clinical services are cut in every manner conceivable in addition to the honest expense saving approach of consulidating administrative services, and unifying the management components into a central cost effective entity. That was done and almost always promotes honest savings, more unified management, better oversight, etc. But the other hack and slash approaches are just too tempting for most organizations to resist and almost universally quality of care has declined in the last two decades dramatically. Just ask patients older than 40 or parents of adult mentally ill, or patients trying to seek more than piecemeal, silo’ed services in which the client/family has to apply separtely for every service they need and processes of delivery take far longer than they did before in the organizations that have followed this kind of recipe. It is repairable and correction and refinement of service delivery organization is finally beginning to evolve in enlightened centers.

But when privatization evolves to equal profits over service expenditures and funding sources, i.e., the local and state government start the Nixon approach of decreasing funding annually, then quality declines in synchrony with those cuts as governemnts handily and happily get out of the “mental health business.” Recently Obamacare has taken the aporach that an interim solution is to expand Medicaid. Right now that is the only visible solution but it should be temporary. And it has rightly generated enormous controversy as it shifts costs to the federal level, WILL result in cuts elsewhere in the Federal budget at time when we need to be rebuilding everywhere, infrastructure and God knows what else, or means the dreaded rabies inducing reaction to “higher revenue streams,” the euphemism for higher taxes. The reality is that the public mental health client cannot fully pay for their mental health services they need and few in the world of economic governmental reality are paying responsible attention to that undeniable reality. And again the powers that be seem to still be forgetting the old American ideal of the “common weal,’ the good of the majority, the ‘help thy neighbor ethos.’

Let us hope the folks, all concerned in Milwaukee learn from the mistakes of the rest of the country’s floundering experiment with “mental health reform,” and do it better and differently. They certainly sound as if they have a sound plan, if only they make it work RIGHT.

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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.

Continue reading “Introduction to Mental Health Reform in North Carolina”