Just as you believe that maybe, perhaps, the tide is turning and the government that is charged with the responsibility and care of those most in need — the severely mentally ill who are hospitalized — actually “gets” it, you read a story like this one.
Raquel Padilla was discharged from a state inpatient psychiatric hospital in San Antonio, Texas and dropped off at the bus station. That and a phone call to a sibling who also suffers from schizophrenia was apparently the extent of her discharge planning. Raquel suffered from schizophrenia herself and also apparently had mild mental retardation.
Needless to say, bad things soon followed and three days later, she was found dead in a concrete ditch. She never made it on the bus.
The family is rightfully outraged:
“She wasn’t capable of taking care of herself, especially in the big city. Even for a normal person, it’s hard to catch the bus. For her, it was out of the question,” said the woman’s brother, Juan Padilla.
Her ability to function was dependent on her medications, and anyone who talked to her could tell she was incapable of navigating a busy bus station, he said.
The hospital’s response? Well, an apology would’ve been nice, but no, this is the government you’re talking about:
Bob Arizpe, the San Antonio State Hospital superintendent, said employees were following procedure when they dropped Padilla off, and a staff member saw her standing in line for the bus on Dec. 20.
Translation — “We followed our procedures, so we’re clear of any fault.” Not, “Perhaps our procedures are deeply flawed and we’ll re-evaluate them. We apologize for the tragedy and offer our condolences for the family’s loss.”
The state’s response was just as unfeeling and embarassing:
[Emily Palmer, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services] also stressed the state is no longer legally responsible for a patient once he or she is discharged.
“They’re not under the supervision of the courts or the state,” she said. “They have a right to make choices.”
Ah, the old, “Well, we fulfilled our responsibility to this patient. They’re free and responsible for themselves once we drop them off.”
Sadly, this sort of “discharge planning” is fairly commonplace in these kinds of facilities. They are overwhelmed, understaffed and perennially underfunded. But it’s no excuse for treating human beings as so much cattle that just needs to be routed correctly.
And frankly, would’ve it been asking too much to suggest that a state worker talk to the bus driver about the individual’s special needs, and watch as she boards the bus and ensures she stays on it until it pulls out and a family member can meet it on the other end? People just discharged are often in a fragile and vulnerable state. Wouldn’t that be the human thing to do, and take an extra, what, 30 minutes?
Apparently neither San Antonio State Hospital nor Texas much cares, because, after all, their procedures were followed.