By S.I. Cantrell
I’d rather stay here with all the madmen,
Than perish with the sad men roaming free.
– David Bowie, 1972
These days, the rock singer’s mental patient no longer has the option of staying in a mental institution, even if he feels unready for life outside the walls.
Most patients enter in a period of crisis and are released in a few days, when they no longer pose a danger to themselves or others.
Local homeless shelter operators have been grumbling about Goldsboro’s Cherry Hospital sending people to Wilmington with little more than pills and a list of shelter addresses.
Tuesday morning, Janet Johnson, director of the state mental facility’s social work program, and Doug Dexter, social work supervisor of the adult admission unit, spoke to the Tri-County Homeless Interagency Council.
Their message? Shelters are pretty much it, but Cherry will try to work more closely with them.
“When the time for discharge comes, people want to go home,” Dexter said. Trouble is, if their family won’t take them, home means a homeless shelter.
Of 133 patients Cherry discharged to New Hanover County from January to April, they said, 24 went to homeless shelters, 78 to private residences like family homes, 12 into rest homes or nursing homes, seven into group homes and six into “halfway homes,” which included First Fruit Ministries’ transitional housing for homeless women. The rest went to hotels or other destinations.
Shelter operators say they aren’t prepared to offer services to the mentally ill.
Dexter said Cherry communicates with the destination shelters before release.
Shelter operators have told me that doesn’t always happen. Of the 41 people discharged in January to New Hanover, all but three were from this county, Johnson said. Two were from Brunswick County and one from Duplin.
Mental health reform was supposed to mean money for new facilities in communities like ours. We’ve seen some open, but not enough.
This year, Southeastern won permission to use some of the 12 beds in its detoxification unit for overnight crisis services. People can stay up to 15 days.
Southeastern’s Tammy Knight suggested the new unit could take some of the more severely affected patients discharged from Cherry, a sort of “step-down” level. But there aren’t enough beds to take everyone Cherry releases.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness in North Carolina held its annual breakfast for legislators on Wednesday. As usual, no legislators showed up.
While there, I talked to Southeastern’s director, Art Constantini. He said he’d like to see small group homes created to take Cherry’s discharged patients. They could offer relatively normal settings augmented with supportive services.
Such solutions take money and time. NAMI says much of the savings from closing two state mental hospitals is going to pay for the one that will replace them. That’s unacceptable.
The lawmakers who launched this reform need to repair it.
Film & a forum: I’ll be among the panelists discussing tonight’s showing of Out of the Shadow, Susan Smiley’s film about her mother’s schizophrenia. I saw an advance copy. It’s a powerful movie.
We see what it’s like to grow up in a home where Mom’s behavior swings erratically from suburban-normal to hostile and dangerous, how she’s shuffled from place to place and the toll it’s taken on her two daughters.
The film and forum are at 7 p.m. tonight in the Warwick Center Ballroom at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. It’s presented by NAMI Wilmington, the Cape Fear Chapter of the Mental Health Association of North Carolina, and Jannsen, a pharmaceutical company specializing in mental health.
It’s free and you’re invited.
Contact Si Cantwell at 343-2364 or si.cantwell@StarNewsOnline.com.
Thursday, May 11, 2006
By S.I. Cantrell
Posted by david at 9:37 AM Permalink