In my journey through my training centers becoming a psychiatrist, I was accidentally graced that my medical school and subsequent residency centers had medical libraries with superb historical collections. There are a number of other medical school libraries who have similar collections. At Michigan and then at Duke, I found myself spending empty hours reading histories of medicine and then psychiatry in the rarefied collections rooms. These left an indelible mark in my reading appetites that have lasted my entire professional life.
The past five decades of exposure and experience have faced me with the enormous shifts in practice models, the wrenching changes in mental health service delivery since the 1950’s, and continuing dilemmas posed by seductive national solutions that brought with them worsening problems. The overall shift in western mental health care has swung from outpatient care for the well-off seen by private practitioners, the subsequent mental health center movement for the general populace from the 1960’s through the 1980’s, and the even larger but mostly unseen segment of public inpatient psychiatric hospital care that dwarfed all other portions of the mental health care pie. This last “market” underwent the most severe changes of all. By the latter 1960’s the movement to close state psychiatric hospitals was underway fueled by the new sociologic analyses of authors like Erving Goffman and the emergence national awareness of the wretched, medieval conditions of state hospitals and wretched treatment of patients. Commitment laws came to be humanized with respect for patients’ rights to legal representation after the 1974 Supreme Court Wyatt vs. Stickney decision. De-institutionalization, the discharging of inpatients from state hospitals proceeded through the 1990’s, eventually emptying states’ psychiatric hospitals of roughly 4/5 of their beds, closing old hospitals in wholesale fashion.
Many figures played major roles in this profoundly important movement. R. D. Laing in the UK tried treating schizophrenic patients in more open, experimental settings. Typical of those times, whether in state hospitals or a number of private free-standing hospitals, patient governments were formed. Patients were encouraged and helped to make many personal and treatment decisions for themselves. The “therapeutic community” movement arose out of, and in parallel, grew from this non-authoritarian, more democratic hospital life. Hospitals were opened up to the community. Echoing rehabilitation practices of nearly a century before, patients were permitted to work and earn money. Social activities were begun with the return of art, dance, crafts, and musical pursuits.
One very influential source of the de-institutionalization movement in psychiatric hospital care came from Italy in the 1960’s. This piece of psychiatric history is little known in the USA.
The Italian psychiatrist who pioneered many of the components of radical change in public psychiatric hospitals was Dr. Franco Basaglia. His story is nothing short of fascinating. As is so often the case in the culture of Italian figures no matter what their field of endeavor, his crusade began to take shape in his younger years being exposed to different mass political movements and periods of social upheaval in Italy. He was born into the fascist periods of Italy before and through World War II. He absorbed radical social concepts from the communist and socialist movements of post-war Italy. These concepts guided him to become the effective psychiatric reformer that led to his national fame and regard. This kind of personal development would be viewed as heretical, treasonous and would prevent any achievement in this conservative America. But in Italy, Basaglia’s social-intellectual development made perfect sense.
Basaglia did all the things we think of radical in a wretched state hospital. He empowered patients, tore down fences, did away with tortuous physical treatment, had patients go into the community and so on. He did all this in a true backwater town on the northern border away from any and all big cities and centers of thought and social change. He worked for several years in isolation and obscurity. Then through a fascinating chain of fortuitous events, his efforts began to be noticed and the powerful beacons of the press and celebrity status quickly enveloped him, his work and his staff.
His efforts came quickly to be acclaimed and trumpeted nationally and internationally. His influence in Italy was far beyond that of any of America’s famous reformers such as Dorothea Dix, Nelly Bly, Erving Goffman, Laing and all the others. Italy responded with the national social change that has only been equaled in the Scandinavian countries, not France, nor the UK and especially not in the United States.
With a few years, a reform law was passed in Italy named after Basaglia. It set the national goal of the closure of ALL the public state psychiatric hospitals!
This was indeed fully accomplished, a feat that is beyond astounding in the annals of national social change. For several decades now in Italy, there have been no mass hospitalizations of the chronically mentally ill. There do not seem to be hundreds of thousands of “CMI” (chronically mentally ill) persons everywhere on the streets of Italy. Somehow Italy with all its frequent political crises, changes in governments, scandals, raucous politics and all the other tumult that seems par for the national life of Italy, has done what other western societies cannot care pretty well for the nation’s mentally ill.
I would refer the reader who might be interested in the history of Dr. Franco Basaglia and the “reformation” of Italy’s national mental health de-institutionalization and revolution to the writings of Prof. John Foot of the University of Bristol in England. His book, The Man Who Closed the Asylums: Franco Basaglia and the Revolution in Mental Health Care is well worth the read. An online article published in VERSO, “Closing the Asylums,” gives readers a worthy overview into Dr. Basaglia, the times and his accomplishments.
Realizing what Basaglia accomplished forty years ago leaves this student of psychiatry, its history, and observer of our current national crises, sad for where we have been trapped by our own hobbling prejudices, resistance to social change and pattern of quickie formulas that led to the all too familiar conundrum of “unintended consequences,” and bigger and more complex messes with each year in mental health care delivery.
A somewhat new trend has been emerging over the last 1-2 years and is becoming more of a force in mental health reform. That trend is the efforts of private and state-private psychiatric care systems to try to preserve and add psychiatric inpatient beds in their areas. The efforts testify to the need for more psych inpatient beds almost everywhere. They are also confirmation of the huge national mistake that has been made in the previous 40 years or so nationally to close inpatient state hospital psychiatric beds.
I will first set the stage, reviewing some of the factors leading to a national inpatient bed shortage. Second, I will discuss two recent differing state systems’ efforts to add or preserve inpatient psychiatric services. One is a novel success story that bears study, and the other is a looming failure that illustrates some of the factors that persist that impede this kind of mental health care system delivery. Lastly, I will conclude this lengthy piece, reviewing why the national loss of inpatient beds happened, contrasting what occurred in the public arena, which is so well known, with what happened in the private psychiatric treatment bed world. Continue reading “New Psych Beds Still Needed Nationwide; Two Differing Solutions”
At times I like and choose to highlight short advocacy pieces that are opinion pieces written regionally that are so eloquent I feel they are worth sharing. They also serve as crystal clear reminders that mental health reform issues are really quite universal in our country.
One such piece was just published in The Buffalo News just today, August 30, 2017, still during the continuing agonizing events of Hurricane Harvey down in Houston Texas. This is a Wednesday as I write this and it has been raining in the Houston now for 5=6 days straight with over 50 inches all told having fallen in many areas, covering now up to 50 counties. It is dawning upon all of us, and without a doubt that domestically this may be not only one of the “defining issues” of the Trump Presidency but likely one of the “dominating” social issues of his tenure. The initial help efforts have been monumentally large, fast in onset and heartening to all who witness the “citizen” led and self-initiated efforts portrayed on the news outlets.
The infrastructure costs and time to repair will be higher than anything this nation has ever seen and will clearly take years. This is an incredibly sobering realization for this country which is many ways been spared because of its temperate climate the magnitude of many natural disasters that seem to inflict cruel pain and hardship on poorer regions of the world such as Bangladesh’s almost annual massive floods, displacing up to a million people during its monsoon season. I mention this because it is also happening there this very week also.
But there is another thread that I wish to emphasize in this post as no doubt many other citizen writers/bloggers and most of the national media will discuss and likely also argue over for a few weeks. That is the national physical infrastructure that has been neglected and minimally maintained in most parts of the country for a number of years if not decades. Urban plumbing, water systems, waste treatment capabilities and plants, water resources, roads, highways, airports, and bridges have come to be on the minds of governments at local, state and national levels.
The means by which I came upon this article entitled, “The Door To A Revolution in Psychiatry Opens,” is worth detailing. The author of the blog post is Robert Whitaker, a journalist and author of two books about the history of psychiatry, one of which I have and have read with great enjoyment, fascination and a good for the soul dose of humility, Mad In American: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, And The Enduring Mistreatment Of The Mentally Ill [click link for Amazon review etc.]. Mr. Whitaker is in the foe of psychiatry camp along with perhaps better known anti-psychiatry physician Peter Breggin MD. Mr. Whitaker’s book focuses on the failings and disasters, failed theories, bad side effects of many psychiatric medicines and so on. In all fairness I follow him with searchbots on the Net and this turned up. If you loathe all things psychiatric, then this is one of the books for you in truth. Form my point of view it is a needed viewpoint and one to help us in the guild…though I do not think of myself as all that nefarious and evil, and talented writers such as he are to be commended and accepted for their necessary work.
It is no news at all to anyone reading this or anything else at all in the media for the last couple of decades that in the United States, we have the costliest health care services in the world and that we do not get our full “bang for our [many] bucks” in the cost equation. Yet as far ago as the 1970’s the world’s wealthiest groups in the world came to our hospitals and big name healthcare clinics for the “top healthcare.” I recall then when certain families of a certain “royal” family born of petroleum revenues and riches came to my training, teaching and later, practice affiliated hospital for all sorts of medical and very secret psychiatric care. Those folks always created a great stir in the entire hospital system. They usually took over at least an entire wing of a floor of the hospital and had instituted all their dietary restrictions, religious requirements, and at times brought some of their own staff; contrary to the usual undertone of some prejudice, their trappings and accouterment of their societal practices actually made things easier. But the greatest stir was always when they left the hospital to return home at the end of the treatment stay for whoever the patient(s) was or were. These folks would bestow expensive “trinkets” upon the hospital staff they had liked and favored. The gifts were in the league of Rolex watches and whatever was in vogue at the time but included eye-popping jewelry, expensive Italian shotguns and on and on. Cost of the medical care was of course no impediment for these folks and their new contemporaries in the decades since, in the rapid incubating industries of high fashion, investment, mergers and acquisitions, international banking (and who knows, maybe even money laundering), drug lords under assumed identities (usually in highly securable and ‘safe’ free standing clinics instead of rambling hospitals with as many security holes in them as one one of my old sweaters. This phenomenon of perhaps ostentatious consumerism of costly healthcare is one of the weird epiphenomena of our healthcare ‘industry’ that illustrates its almost bizarre contradictions. And it occurs in all the big name medical institutions in the countries in the northeast, south, midwest, far southwest, upper far west; you name a region with big world beating specialty medical care in one or more disease and you will find from time to time, the world’s supremely wealthy beating a path to their door.
Some countries have taken difference copycat or “opposite-cat” approaches to this medical social snobbism of extreme consumerism. India and Thailand have in the last few years gotten into or started the cheaper markets for elective surgeries especially for fractions of the costs of standard American healthcare institutions. There does not seem to be too much wrenching of scrub scrubs suits, self-flagellation with IV lines by surgeons decrying this development but it is going to be interesting if this development starts to significantly cut into the receivables of lots of hospitals.”Oh, I had my gall bladder done in the Punjab, I had a great time, and save $9,000 too!” Which is to say we still do not have true competition in this country. Any of you free marketeers listening out there? All we have is siloed, protected from almost any similar medical business, sectors, having no overarching economic influences that touch more than one sector and therefore the Great God of Free Market Competition that has for 30 years been supposed to have controlled prices. What we have are ‘cooperative co-monopolies.’
Let us review for a few lines what we have tried.
Several weeks ago I was incredibly saddened by the news from a colleague and dear friend of mine, also a Duke child psychiatrist, that one of our mentors had passed away in his mid-80’s. He meant so much to me, I wish to mention and memorialize his name in my own little way in this humble esoteric blog. He was Dr. Marc (Marcelino) Amaya (with ‘Amaya y Rosas’ being his full last name).
He was one of the original child psychiatrists in a group that came down to Durham NC from Northeastern training centers to help start the department and to staff it. The other faculty was as were in all major medical centers of the last 50 years, superb instructors and fantastic clinicians that often left us rookies with our veritable mouths open at their insights.
Dr. Amaya started a complete children’s psychiatric hospital I think in the early or mid-1960’s to house what Duke could not offer on its grounds because it was private and not state affiliated and for funding issues. The Children’s Psychiatric Institute (CPI) was a fabulous training center on the level of such other state hospital affiliated and also lesser known than the more celebrated upper crust programs, but every bit as good as any of the Ivy League (Boston, NYC, Philly, etc.) centers such as the late and venerated Dr. Ralph Rabinovich of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. CPI has a short term and long term outpatient clinic, a family therapy program that was expanded by this writer and one of the veteran incredibly skilled social workers at CPI, Anne K. Parrish ACSW, LCSW, into a training program for child mental health trainees from Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill medical and graduate schools. Dr. Amaya was a superb supervisor and I always learned untold concepts, techniques, and gems at his feet so to speak. I also accompanied him to the testify in the Golden Days of Psychiatry and Psychology in this country to testify annually before the NC General Assembly (state legislature) as we would advocate for our state funded programs, but also for the private inpatient and outpatient programs at Duke and UNC! So there we would be harassing clinically and statistically the legislators (who in those days seemed to listen better..no matter their party affiliation). It was quite ironic but demonstrated the dedication that Dr. Amaya had to the delivery of mental health services to ALL children of the state and to any agency, institution, training program that was trying to provide such. His program was not his first concern in the statewide scheme of things, it was just another important part of the overall system of resources he foresaw for the state decades before some of them came into existence. He was a short man with a lyrical Hispanic accent that I as a Southwesterner could listen all day long and always feel like, when I was with him, I was a little bit ‘back home’ in the Southwest.”