Psychiatrist At Fairfax County, Va., Intake Center Resigns Amid Fears Of Coronavirus Spread

 

(3-21-20) The chairman of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors announced today that the county where I live suffered its first death because of the coronavirus. The individual’s name was not given.

The Washington Post reported late today that a psychiatrist at the county mental health intake center had resigned after claiming he and other mental health workers there were not being adequately protected.

I had asked our local mental health officials and Sheriff Stacey A. Kincaid this weekend about safety steps being taken at the Merrifield Center For Community Mental Health and Fairfax County Adult Detention Center. I posted the sheriff’s safeguards this morning, but hadn’t heard from mental health officials.

I’m reprinting an edited version of the Post account about Psychiatrist Jason Williams sudden resignation.  Obviously this news is upsetting to me personally because two of my adult children work locally with persons with mental illnesses, one as a peer support specialist and the other as a mental health clinician for an area  housing nonprofit.

In the midst of this uncertainty, I received a promising email  from long-time local mental health advocate Joanna Walker with the National Alliance on Mental Illness Northern Virginia chapter that includes Fairfax County.

“I’m pleased to report that NAMI Northern Virginia will be using HIPAA Compliant Zoom Conferencing for our support groups. This morning I co-facilitated the first online  meeting of our Arlington Connection Recovery Support Group. This group was advertised to former group members only because it was a test of the software, however future family and peer support groups will be available to the public, with links on NAMI-NorthernVirginia.org. I really like the ability to see participants on video, and our meeting was very successful.”

What are your communities doing to insure safe procedures at mental health intake centers? Are your communities using video conferencing for support groups? Please share helpful mental health articles and information on my Facebook page.

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Sheriff Kincaid Explains Steps Taken To Protect Inmates and Staff At County Jail From Virus Threat

 

(3-21-20) In a telephone call yesterday, Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey A. Kincaid said she’d taken several steps to protect staff and inmates at the county’s Adult Detention Center from the COVID-19 threat. The jail can hold as many as 1,260 prisoners. It’s estimated that 20 percent have a known mental illness.

No local inmates have been found to have the virus.  Some jurisdictions, mostly in California, are releasing inmates being held for minor, non-violent offenses or reducing bail, but that has not happened in Fairfax. Sheriff Kincaid explained that the decision to free inmates would be made by the judges who ordered them detained, not her department.

I’d asked the sheriff about precautions after learning that inmates in federal prisons had to buy soap to wash their hands and after posting complaints by a prisoner in the nation’s “Super Max” penitentiary in Florence, Co., citing unsanitary living conditions.

Inmates at the Fairfax jail are being told to wash their hands repeatedly during the day, are not charged for soap, and cleaning at the jail has been increased, as has inmate screening.

While all visits to the jail have been curtailed to protect staff and visitors, inmates are being offered twice-a-week, 15 minute phone calls without being charged.

In an email,  the Sheriff’s Department Public Information Officer Andrea Ceisler elaborated on what actions the Sheriff has implemented.

“If an inmate were to be a presumptive case,” Ceisler wrote, “we would hold them in isolation for up to 14 days with ongoing Health Department consultation. For testing, we would send a respiratory specimen to the Health Department.

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How’s Your Local Jail Protecting Inmates During Pandemic? Prisoners With Mental Illnesses At Risk

As of Thursday, there are no known cases of COVID-19 in Kansas prisons or jails.

NOMIN UJIYEDIIN / KANSAS NEWS SERVICE

(3-20-20) An inmate complained in a blog that I posted Monday about unsanitary conditions inside the nation’s most secure prison. Prisoners are being charged to pay for soap.

I received an email two days later from Robert Hood, the retired warden from that same prison – the ADX in Florence, Colo., warning about how vulnerable prisoners are to the corona virus and pandemic.

It’s estimated that 383,000 prisoners in our jails and prisons have a serious mental illness.

“Some staff are thinking, “Gimme a break. Time to call in sick. Time to think of my family first,’” Hood told ABC News, adding: “These are the forgotten people. “There’s a lot of good people in prison. There’s not probably a lot of sympathy out there for them now, but I have to be candid with you — there’s a crisis going on.”

In Fairfax County, where I live, I have asked Sheriff Stacey Kincaid what she is doing to protect both employees and prisoners. I will post her response when I receive it.

What’s being done in your community? How are local mental health providers responding to this threat? Have NAMI and other support meetings been cancelled? The only Clubhouse in Washington DC closed this week? What is being done to support individuals who need those support meetings?

Hopefully, reporters in your areas are writing about these challenges and officials, such as retired Warden Hood are sounding alarms.

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Federal Prisoner Tells Me About Filthy Conditions In His Cell: Inmates Must Buy Soap Despite Virus Threat

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California says conditions inside Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles often are filthy - an allegation the L.A. County Sheriff's Department denies.

VICE reported finding  “horrible physical conditions—from pests to raw sewage” in a 2019 story spotlighting conditions inside  the federal detention center in Manhattan.  (ACLU photo.)

(3-16-20) Like cruise ships and nursing homes, jails and prisons are prime breeding grounds for deadly outbreaks of the coronavirus. So, I was shocked this week when the Treatment Advocacy Center’s CEO John Snook relayed a message to me about how the federal Bureau of Prisons is reportedly charging inmates for soap.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) estimated that 705,600 mentally ill adults were incarcerated in state prisons, 78,800 in federal prisons and 479,900 in local jails. That was in 2006 and, since then, the numbers have been growing. It is generally accepted that 383,000 prisoners across the country have a serious mental illness.

Shortly after the Covid-19 virus began making headlines, I received a letter from a prisoner being held in the BOP’s Administrative Maximum Facility (the ADMAX), the most secure unit in our nation located in Florence, Colorado.

Every three months, he explained, prisoners are moved into new isolation cells for security reasons. He was moved abruptly without explanation recently, being sent to a different cell on a Thursday. He immediately asked for cleaning supplies but was refused. Minimal cleaning supplies are dispensed on Wednesdays at the ADMAX, he wrote, so he had to wait even though his cell was filthy.

“When I entered, I turned to assess the damage and sweat needed to scrub my new cell without detergent, nor much needed disinfectant. I alway look at the toilet/sink comb when entering a random cell since it’s usually the nastiest thing in need of cleaning. Then the shower, where some guys masturbate, blow their nose, spit, piss, etc., and rarely clean, so the shiny stainless steel is buried in months and years of fossilized slime. Dog pound kennels are hygienically more human than our ADX cells. Not that animals deserve less. It’s just bewildering how some Americans demand better treatment for another species, than they do for our own.

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General Recalls Son’s 17 Year Battle With Paranoid Schizophrenia: What He Learned As A Parent

(3-13-20) From My Files Friday – In late 2016, I posted a blog about retired Air Force Brigadier General Gary Ambrose who’d received an award for leadership and advocacy in my home state of Virginia.  During his acceptance speech, the general spoke eloquently about his son, Brad. The general continued to advocate after receiving the award, overseeing the jail diversion program in Fairfax.  

“Our full time mission became keeping him safe and alive.”

by Gary Ambrose:

Like many others, our family became mental health advocates by necessity.

We were advocates for Brad, who, for 17 years, lived with paranoid schizophrenia and the voices that urged him to take his own life.

Brad was intelligent, articulate, well-read, and charismatic. We shared a sense of humor. Of course, we loved him. But more than that– we liked him. He was our son, but he was also a friend. During “good times,” when he was medication compliant, he was a pleasant companion. 

He was a peer mentor in the NAMI Peer To Peer program and the first chairman of the Mental Health Subcommittee of the Fairfax County Re-entry Council. In the spring of 2014, he was the first person with mental illness to be highlighted on Channel 4’s “Changing Minds” segment. He was passionate about improving life for people with mental illness.

He had potential.

But, he had also spent many of the 17 years of his illness cycling through the healthcare and legal systems, and was, much of the time, a danger to himself.

Brad’s illness took him from us in 2014.

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BOP Director Promises Better Treatment For Mentally Ill Prisoners – A Day Before She Is Replaced

Seriously mentally ill prisoners held by the federal Bureau of Prisons are no longer supposed to be housed in isolation cells such as this example.

(3-09-20) Government advisory committees do exactly that. They advise. There’s no guarantee anyone will listen. Agencies have their own experts and priorities, and so do the political appointees appointed by the president to run them.

I understood this when I was appointed to serve on the newly created Interdepartmental Serious Mental Illness Coordinating Committee (ISMICC), which was created by Congress to foster collaboration and communication between the nine federal departments and agencies that deal with more than a hundred mental health/substance abuse programs.

With support from my fellow non-federal board members, I have focused on the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and our panel’s recommendation that it find ways to reduce long term isolation and restraints when dealing with seriously mentally ill patients.

While the Justice Department was required to participate in ISMICC, Congress didn’t mention the BOP. This was unfortunate because the federal prison system houses 175,315 prisoners, including several who have serious mental illnesses (most notably Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber.)

Sadly, the BOP has a dismal record when it comes to its treatment of seriously mentally ill inmates. In July 2017, the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General found that on average, BOP prisoners with serious mental illnesses were confined about 896 consecutive days, or about 29 months, in so-called “special management units (isolation)” between 2008 and 2015.  Incredibly, 13% of these inmates were released directly into the community after spending an average of 29 consecutive months in seclusion cells with minimal treatment.  A study by the Marshall Project a year later questioned claims by the BOP that it was enacting changes to improve mental health care and took issue with the BOP’s claim that only three percent of its prisoners had a mental illness. The general accepted statistic is that 16 percent of incarcerated individuals have a diagnosed mental illness.

Twelve of my fellow non-federal ISMICC members joined me (only one didn’t sign on) in asking the BOP Director to begin participating in ISMICC meetings. The then-director agreed but he ended up being replaced last year and the BOP delegate missed our last two meetings.

Undaunted, thirteen of us sent a second letter requesting BOP participation to its new director, Kathleen Hawk Sawyer. 

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