Why We Still Need Psychiatric Hospitals
(Feb. 14, 2014) Two tragic stories out of Washington, DC, in the last week highlight why access to psychiatric hospitalization remains so essential despite the best efforts of America’s policy makers to get rid of the nation’s mental hospitals.
Daniel Ellis, 59, was committed to mental illness treatment at St. Elizabeths Hospital in the District but somehow managed to wander away unnoticed last weekend. Four days later, his frozen body was found in the snow two blocks from a Metro station (“St. Elizabeths patient Daniel Ellis found dead in the snow,” DCist, Feb. 14).
Two weeks earlier, Lillian Alvarado, a 21-year-old District resident, was ordered into treatment at St. Elizabeths after she allegedly suffocated and dismembered her newborn baby boy as a result of “mental health matters” (“DC woman charged with dismembering newborn ordered to St. Elizabeths,” Washington Post, Jan. 29).
Whatever details emerge about how Ellis escaped the hospital despite his commitment to care and the circumstances surrounding Alvarado, it should be obvious to any reasonable person that both needed intensive treatment, and lives were lost when they didn’t get it.
The drive to close psychiatric hospitals has for 50 years been persistent and relentless. It needs to stop – and to be reversed. As recent Torrey Advocacy Commendation winner DJ Jaffe argues in an op-ed, public officials need to “just say no” to closing more beds – and start saying yes to providing the intensive care that men and women in psychiatric crisis need (“Just say no, Governor Cuomo,” New York City Journal, Feb. 13).
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