Been Turned Away From An Emergency Room? Advocate Looking For Stories To Support Possible Lawsuit

(1-4-19) D. J. Jaffe, author of the book Insane Consequences, wants to use the courts to obtain improved mental health services. I received this email request from him this morning and am happy to share it with you. I’d also encourage you to tell your stories on my Facebook page so that I can forward them to the appropriate U.S. Senators and Representatives in Congress who monitor mental health care.

Help Improve Emergency Room Care: A Request for Information from Mental Illness Policy Org.

We are  in the very preliminary stages of researching if it would be possible to use a lawsuit to improve future emergency room (ER) care for people with serious mental illness. 

We are interested in learning about individuals who went to an ER seeking emergency treatment for a serious mental illness and were either turned away without a medical screening and/or injured themselves or someone else as a result of a lack of treatment or inadequate treatment. 

If you, or someone you know, has experienced this within the last 18 months and is open to the idea of participating in a lawsuit, can you contact me at [email protected] with your story?  Please provide as much information as you can, including (1) the name and address of the hospital; (2) the dates of the ER visit; and (3) the details leading up to the visit and what occurred during and after the visit. 

This is not a promise that we will be able to help you in any way.  We are collecting information to see if a lawsuit might be feasible. If we think it might be, we will be back in touch with you to get additional information, and your consent to participate in the litigation, if any.

Thank you.

DJ Jaffe,  Executive Director, Mental Illness Policy Org.

Be Hopeful During This Coming Year: Hope For Those Who Are Sick, Hope For Reform, Hope For Recovery

(12-31-18) You must have hope!

That is the message I delivered before Christmas to four families who contacted me about an adult child who either was hospitalized, incarcerated or on the verge of both.

One young man had been arrested for trespassing, one of the most common excuses used to jail someone who is clearly in the midst of a psychotic break. One had gotten into an altercation with police while delusional. Another was a confused family whose psychiatrist simply threw up her hands and abandoned a patient after prescribing a slew of powerful antipsychotics. No references. No advice about how to wean oneself from the drugs. Simply: I’m dropping you as a patient.

Incidents such as these infuriate me. But anger is counterproductive unless it spurs advocacy.

Whenever I receive emails about individuals in crisis, I remember when our son Kevin was doing poorly. I remember how he was arrested after breaking into an unoccupied house to take a bubble bath. I remember how he was twice shot with a taser later by police. I remember how he was repeatedly hospitalized during six horrible years. I remember the sleepless nights, the constant worry, the nagging fears for his future.

Today, Kevin is doing fabulously. He is working full-time as a peer specialist, buying a house with his mother, and only a year away from earning a masters degree in social work. I am proud of him and I am a lucky parent. I sometimes feel a form of survivor’s guilt but then I remember how inspiring it was when Kevin was sick and I met someone who had recovered! It gave me hope.

Most people who get sick can and do get better. Not everyone, but most – if they receive the help that they need and accept it.

This is why it is so important for those who love them and those who are ill to cling to hope. You must believe a better day is coming.

Writer Hal Lindsey said it best. “Man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air…but only for one second without hope.”

My New Year wish for you is that you have hope in your hearts as we move into the coming year.


Dr. McCance-Katz’s Tour de Force Leadership At SAMHSA Makes Her My Choice For Most Impactful Mental Health Leader In 2018

(12-28-18) Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz is my choice for the person who has had the biggest impact in mental health during 2018.

Appointed by the Trump administration in September 2017 as the first Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use, Dr. McCance-Katz has dramatically changed the focus at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

She has made serious mental illnesses a priority and has directed SAMHSA to create and fund programs based on clinical results and science.

Her leadership is a much needed breath of fresh air from the previous administrator who was harshly criticized by Congress for reportedly showing little interest in serious mental illnesses and whose leadership resulted in SAMHSA employees ranking morale inside their agency as among the lowest in the entire federal government.

SAMHSA received a budget increase of 35% under the Trump administration, allowing it to more than double the number of grants that it awarded in 2018 from 600 to 1,300. Simply distributing money is no solution, especially if it goes to wasteful programs, which is why one of Dr. McCance-Katz’s first orders was a thorough review of what constitutes an evidence based practice worthy of funding. Given that some so-called evidence based practices in the past were based on little or no real evidence, this was a major directional change. At the same time, SAMHSA streamlined its application review process, cutting the application from 25 pages to 10 and the number of questions for applicants from 25 to a mere 9 so that federal funds could be released more quickly to those programs that deserve them.

Making the process more vigilant, efficient and easier to use might not seem sexy, but awarding grants is how the federal government helps steer states. (For example, SAMHSA recently awarded $61.1 million for suicide prevention programs.) Having someone as assistant secretary who actually is making Americans with serious mental illnesses a prime concern is a godsend.

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Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays From Our House To You

(12-24-18) To my readers: thank you for caring about individuals with serious mental illnesses and those who love them. During these holidays, let us not forget the sick, homeless, and incarcerated while celebrating those, including my son Kevin, who are doing well.

Matthew 25:36 “I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”

This coming year presents us with fresh opportunities to advocate for change.

Margaret Meade:  Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Patti and I wish you a Merry Christmas!

Justice Dept. Slams Virginia Jail. “Deliberate Indifference” Led To Numerous Deaths But No One Punished

Starved To Death In Jail

(12-20-18) The U.S. Department of Justice has said there is reasonable evidence to conclude that officials at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Virginia are violating the constitutional rights of prisoners with mental illnesses. The report refers to  “deliberate indifference to prisoners’ constitutional rights to adequate medical care” and a “deliberate indifference to prisoner health and safety.”

In a 43-page investigative report released late last night, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia disclosed information about deaths at the jail not previously widely known.

Perhaps the saddest findings are frequent references to the “indifference” jail officials and medical workers showed toward mentally ill prisoners. It noted the jail “does not take prisoner grievances about lack of access to medical care seriously, resulting in significant harm to prisoners, even death.”

The federal government launched its investigation of the Portsmouth regional jail at the request of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mental Health America, the NAACP, the ACLU, and the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law after widespread publicity swirling around the death of Jamycheal Mitchell and Virginia state officials’ bungling of state investigations.

Mitchell, a 24 year-old African American with a diagnosed mental illness, was found dead in his cell four months after he was arrested for allegedly stealing $5.05 in candy and a soda from a convenience store. Mitchell died from a heart attack that a Virginia medical examiner said was caused by “wasting away” syndrome (starvation.) He had lost 40 pounds during the 100 days he was jailed in solitary confinement awaiting transfer to a state mental hospital. In a civil suit filed by his family, attorneys claimed correctional officers denied Mitchell food as punishment, kicked, beat, and pepper sprayed him.

The Justice Department noted that jail officials failed to improve medical services even after Mitchell’s highly publicized death. A second inmate died a year later after his repeated pleas for medical help were ignored.

Although the Justice Department concluded there is reasonable evidence to suggest the jail was and continues to violate prisoners’ 8th and 14th Constitutional rights and the Americans with Disability Act, no official was cited for discipline and no criminal charges apparently will be filed against any individuals.

The Hampton Road Jail holds more prisoners with mental illnesses in Virginia than most jails. The report cited 25% as compared to 9.55 percent in other jails. It also had the second highest number of military veterans, of which, 47% had a mental illness.

The report disclosed other deaths inside the jail that had not been publicized, including these examples:

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Parents Spent 15 Years Trying Community Treatment, But It Took Long-Term Residential Care To Help Their Son

Parents describe need for residential housing in Arizona for severely ill sons and daughters

(12-17-18) Can everyone who is seriously mentally ill be helped through community-based services or are some individuals so impaired that they need longer term residential care, possibly for life?

It’s a question being asked more frequently as our jails and prisons continue to fill up with more and more seriously mentally ill Americans whose real crime is that they became ill.

Because of our asylum past, it’s also a question that sparks strong debate.

In Phoenix, several parents of severely ill children have formed a non-profit called the Association for the Chronically Mentally Ill (ACMI). The group argues that community-based services often are inadequate to help their family members who have been diagnosed with serious mental illnesses, as well as, other issues such as addictions, ADHD, and additional significant mental disorders.

Laurie and Dr. Chuck Goldstein helped found the Arizona non-profit after spending fifteen years and hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to help their son, Daniel.  You can read more about ACMI at the end of this blog, but first I’ve asked Laurie to explain why she and her husband are advocating for long term residential treatment beds. She answered by telling me about her son.

Our Son Daniel  by Laurie Goldstein

Our son was born in 1987 to a 15-year-old birth mother who did not seek prenatal care and denied she was pregnant even while she was in labor.

He began exhibiting atypical behavior as a child and was soon diagnosed as having atypical ADHD symptoms. We knew Daniel was bright as soon as he joined our family, but he could not follow directions, and, as he grew older, he began showing significant socialization issues.

At age four, he set fire to furniture in the house.

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