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Ask Candidates If They Vote for Mental Illness Treatment Reform

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(Oct. 6, 2014) Before you vote in the November elections, ask the legislative candidates if they would vote for laws that would help people with mental illness get the care they need, plead Doug and Nancy Reuter in an op-ed for the Seattle Times (“Ask candidates about reforms to mental-health care and Joel’s Law,” Sept. 24).

reutersThe Reuters’ son, Joel, suffered three psychotic episodes over nine years.

The first two psychotic episodes occurred while the family was living in Arizona. During each episode, the Reuters signed papers to have their son involuntarily committed to treatment in a hospital.

Having our son committed “was the hardest thing we had ever done,” they said. “But . . . at least Arizona’s law allowed us to get him timely help.”

In Joel’s case, “help” in Arizona meant both court-ordered outpatient and inpatient treatment.

Joel suffered a third psychotic episode after he moved to Washington. But Washington state law required that Joel be gravely disabled or a danger to himself or to someone else before he received involuntary treatment.

Dozens of calls made by family and friends who could see that Joel was deteriorating and needed treatment went unanswered. When they were answered, the family was told that Joel would need to have a loaded gun in his hand with his finger on the trigger to get help.

When he finally did get into treatment, it only lasted 14 days and there was never any follow-up after he was released.

Three weeks after Joel was released from the hospital, in the middle of a psychotic episode, Joel aimed a gun at police because he thought he was killing zombies. The police responded with fire and Joel’s life ended in tragedy.

To prevent tragedies like this, incoming state lawmakers and Governor Jay Inslee must provide more psychiatric beds and improve the assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) law for people with severe mental illness, urge Joel’s parents.

“Let’s adopt a policy of treatment before tragedy.”

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“Our Son Couldn’t Become Stable Because He Was Always Pushed Out the Door”

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(Oct. 3, 2014) Some patients with severe mental illness need more than just a few days of inpatient treatment, writes a mother on author Pete Earley's blog. A portion of her letter is published below.

mother sonIn October, we managed to get Tom, now actively psychotic, admitted into a local hospital. We were trying to get him into (a state hospital) because we knew another short term hospitalization would do nothing to stop this cycle. We were unable to do this and again, upon admission the discharge plan began.

I told the social worker on the unit that if they planned to release him in 5-7 days, they might as well not waste the time and resources and let him go right now. He needed longer term so the medication can have a chance to work, that was our only hope.

I was told, “…there is no such thing as long term hospitalization anymore…they don’t do that anymore…”

How many fewer admissions there would be if the hospital was not pressured to discharge so soon? The rotating door admissions would certainly decrease, which would save valuable time and resources and would give the patient a chance to recover.

So Tom was transferred to (state hospital) in mid-October where he remains today. It has been a difficult time for Tom but he’s hanging in there. Initially, he presented very well and after a month they moved him to the research unit where he managed to escape for 24 hours. They placed him back in the high security unit which was a low point.

Let me back up.

As soon as Tom arrived at (state hospital) I noticed something different. First, it is not a “nice” facility…the hospital is old and dingy. But the staff, the medical treatment teams are like nothing we’ve experienced in five years at short term units.

Here, the focus is on the patient, not discharge. It is the first time I spent over an hour with the “medical treatment team” asking me questions and truly interested in the answers- the patterns, the symptoms, the cycles, the compliancy, the running away, the running back home, the diagnosis, the medication, the explanation of his psychotic breaks, and so on.

They use this information with the information they get from Tom to give him the best care.

So (during the holidays), I see college kids coming home and I find myself wondering where Tom would be if he hadn’t gotten sick. I need to remind myself that today he is better than he’s ever been. He asks about family and friends and these are all signs that he’s getting well.

Discharge will come eventually when the time is right.
 
For the first time in a long time, we have hope.

Tom’s Mom

Read the entire letter on Pete Earley’s blog.

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Gubernatorial Candidate Vows to Keep Psych Hospital Open

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(Oct. 2, 2014) Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley - whose brother reportedly committed suicide after refusing treatment for bipolar disorder – visited Taunton State hospital yesterday and heard from families concerned about plans for its closure (“Coakley tours Taunton State Hospital, pledges to keep mental health care facility open,” the Boston Globe, Oct. 1).

marthacoakleyThe state needs to provide a variety of treatment options for people with mental illness, she said. She included court-ordered treatment among those tools. The democratic gubernatorial candidate pledged to keep the residential treatment facility open if elected governor.

Taunton State Hospital has already lost more than 50 percent of its beds in the last year, according to the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

The loss of beds at Taunton State mimics a state – and nationwide – trend, Massachusetts lost 31 percent of its psychiatric beds between 2005 and 2010 and has far fewer than the number of beds necessary to meet the needs of its population with severe mental illness, according to our report “No Room at the Inn.”

If the facility closes, people with mental illness would be forced to travel more than 60 miles for treatment.

It’s also “really not fair to families,” said Senator Marc Pacheco (D-Mass), who toured the hospital with Coakley. Closing the hospital would “create a burden for families who wish to visit loved ones being treated at Taunton State.”

Both of Coakley’s opponents agree that the hospital should remain open, according to the Boston Globe.

If policymakers are serious about keeping psychiatric hospitals open, they should consider repealing the IMD exclusion, a policy that prevents states from receiving adequate federal reimbursement for inpatient mental health care – a major factor in the ongoing shortage of needed hospital beds throughout the nation.

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Man Attacks Mother Just One Day Following His Release from Hospital

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(Oct. 1, 2014) Just one day after being released from a psychiatric hospital, Clayton Kirk allegedly stabbed his mother, Sheila Kirk, several times with a large kitchen knife, reports WSB –TV from Georgia (“Police: Son hid in closet after stabbing mother” Sept. 29).

claytonkirkThe family said they have been trying to get their son into treatment for his paranoid schizophrenia for years. Kirk was released from the hospital against his family’s wishes.

When he appeared before a judge on the Monday following the attack, he didn’t seem to understand he was behind bars or why he was in court, reported WSB-TV.

Kirk is currently in the Gwinnet County Jail and his mother is being treated for critical injuries in the local hospital.

This story is too similar to the Virginia tragedy involving Senator Creigh Deeds and his son, Gus, who stabbed his father and fatally shot himself just hours after being released from an emergency hold at a Virginia Hospital.

In the year since this tragedy, Virginia has taken steps toward reform. Last March, Deeds introduced legislation that may have helped his son. In May, Governor McAuliffe signed the bills which increase the time people can be held under a temporary detention order and an emergency psychiatric hold.

Georgia should take note. The state earned a C- in “Mental Health Commitment Laws: A Survey of the States” for its use of laws that facilitate access to treatment for mental illness and an F for its inpatient commitment grade.

While the details of Kirk’s release from the hospital are unknown, it is clear that Georgia can improve and make better use of its assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) and inpatient laws for people with severe mental illness.

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Victim of Home Invasion Blames Lack of Support for Mentally Ill

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(Sept. 30, 2014) In attempt to escape Christian Hicks, a mentally ill homeless man who broke into her home last Wedneday, Melanie Rivera escaped through the second-story window of her home onto her roof (“Mental illness at heart of drama on LA rooftop,” the San Francisco Chronicle, Sept. 26).

christianhicksThe police responded and arrested the intruder almost immediately. But as it turns out, Hicks, 29, is a familiar face in Venice Beach, the neighborhood where Rivera lives.

Neighbors had called the police earlier that day to report Hicks had walked into their yard but police were unable to detain him when the caller refused to identify Hicks.

Rivera attributed the break-in to mental illness and lack of assistance for the homeless and mentally ill.

“I think it’s very obvious for most of us who live around here, when someone seems to be suffering from a mental illness, and to continue to let these people walk around without offering them assistance, to protect them and us,” Rivera said. “That, I think, is the heart of the problem.”

Anyone familiar with Venice knows that homelessness is on vivid display and people with mental illness are numerous among them. In an attempt to ease the problem and the suffering it causes, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orange, Placer and Yolo counties have adopted Laura’s Law. Contra Costa county is considering adopting the court-ordered outpatient treatment law.

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