This past week has been a sad one for understanding how we, as a society, treat our less fortunate fellow human beings. Human beings who are homeless. Human beings who have a mental illness. Human beings who may be our friends, our family members, even ourselves.
First up is College Hospital. College Hospital Costa Mesa is a “JCAHO accredited, 122 bed facility that provides high quality medical, surgical and psychiatric care,” according to their website. I assume that after this incident, they will lose their JCAHO accreditation (another sign that such accreditation is meaningless in actually finding serious institutional problems in the facilities they accredit). The hospital is accused of patient dumping — discharging patients after treatment to homeless shelters and providing little or no followup care:
In a settlement announced Wednesday, the L.A. city attorney’s office said that College Hospital had dumped more than 150 mentally ill patients on skid row — long a magnet for the region’s most vulnerable citizens — in 2007 and 2008.
As part of the settlement, the hospital will pay $1.6 million in penalties and charitable contributions to a host of psychiatric and social-service agencies. The hospital also agreed to a first-of-its-kind injunction that prohibits it from transporting any homeless psychiatric patient discharged from their facilities to the streets or any shelter within an established “Patient Safety Zone,” a swath of downtown and South Los Angeles where most of the region’s homeless shelters and missions are concentrated.
Did the hospital apologize for its appalling behavior? Nope, and it still pretends it did nothing wrong releasing people with mental illness onto the streets as homeless. Until the College Hospital system in the Los Angeles area apologizes for this behavior and have a protocol in place to prevent this sort of thing from happening in the future, I recommend boycotting this organization. A set of psychiatric hospitals like College Hospital won’t get the message loud and clear until people stop using their services.
Next in line for “I can’t believe people act like that still!” is the wonderful Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, which had to let go 11 of its employees recently for encouraging fights among mentally and developmentally disabled residents at the troubled Corpus Christi State School. The employees had little work experience beyond fast-food jobs, according to The Dallas Morning News’s review of personnel records. You can tell that school has great supervisors and managers on staff.
Were any of the employees the managers responsible for these pitiful hiring decisions? Nope, not a one. This despite the fact that apparently no one bothered to check the employees’ backgrounds: “Officials with the Human Development Center said no one from the state called to check Dixon’s references before hiring him at the school.” Great job there, Texas. Way to look out for some of your most vulnerable and in-need citizens.
But it’s not all bad news. Illinois should be proud of this pilot program that helps people with mental illness find appropriate housing — housing that gets them out of nursing homes, long a stop-gap solution for tens of thousands of people throughout the country:
Rockford’s Janet Wattles Center, primed with state and federal money, was the first in the state to be selected for the new program, called Rapid Reintegration.
“Many of these folks could benefit significantly from community placement if they had the housing support or subsidies and supportive services to help them live,” said Executive Director Frank Ware, who has been involved with the state’s long-term planning for nursing home issues for several years.
How did nursing homes take the place for psychiatric hospitals in the U.S.? Well, blame the movement to close down state hospitals while not putting an equal amount of money into providing the appropriate care and treatment many of those patients still needed:
The mentally ill often must give up their housing and stay with friends or family. The other option is homelessness and, sometimes, the criminal justice system.
That’s when a nursing home becomes the most appealing option. Nursing homes have empty beds because seniors today are healthier and delaying their moves, and there is a shortage of hospital psychiatric beds.
In Illinois, about 14,000 people with mental illnesses live in nursing homes for seniors, according to the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.
I hope more cities and towns across the U.S. find money for programs like this, because all people really want and need is a little personalized attention and care when their illness gets the better of them. In the end, treating people with a little dignity and respect goes a long, long way in helping a person in their own recovery. Programs like this housing program in Illinois help pave the way.