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Psychiatric Treatment: This is the best we can do?

Biggs Forensic Center image credit to missourinet.com

Biggs Forensic Center
image credit to missourinet.com

The Kansas City Star ran a piece on Saturday about the Biggs Forensic Center at Fulton State Hospital, which houses patients with mental illnesses from throughout Missouri. With portions of the building dating to the 19th century, the archaic facility is a travesty.

A few details about Biggs/Fulton:
-no air conditioning
-exposed asbestos
-kitchen equipment repurposed from a Korean War-era Navy battleship
-low ceilings that offer places for contraband to be stashed, and which provide metal strips that can be used as weapons
-construction materials that often lead to a deafening sound level. “One of the tragedies about people with serious mental illnesses,” says Keith Schafer, director of the Missouri Department of Mental Health, “is that noise is one of the things that’s very hard for them to deal with. So it’s really a terrible treatment location.”
-a nursing department that is 40% understaffed
-employee worker’s compensations claims worth $4.3 million in 2013. “If an employee sticks around Fulton long enough,” says Schafer, “serious injury is almost assured.”

This is the state to which we relegate people who, due to chemical imbalance, trauma, or neurological dysfunction, suffer from serious brain illnesses. Missouri legislators “continue to debate replacing Fulton hospital.” There’s nothing to debate.

But lawmakers are too busy trying to find ways around the Affordable Care Act, which is the law of the land, passed by the process created by the glorious founding fathers they’re so fond of harking back to. These same lawmakers are too busy trying to legislate health care decisions for women. They have no time for people who need intensive, long-term treatment for brain illness.

It’s a shameful state of affairs. Human beings, by the mere fact of their existence, deserve up-to-date, safe health care, whatever their diagnosis.


Mental Health Over the Airwaves

The other day I was listening to a local pop station – not my usual choice, but I get a kick out of pop music on low-key, relaxed summer days – and heard an ad for a local psychiatric treatment facility. I suppose it caught my attention for a couple of reasons. For one thing, I’m always on the lookout for articles, information, and references to mental health.Then, too, the typical ad on this station is for laser hair removal, weight loss systems, liposuction, and tanning salons – note the trend? Psychiatric treatment is definitely outside the box in this setting.

credit to serviziovolontarioeuropeo.it

credit to serviziovolontarioeuropeo.it

The ad stated that mental/emotional health issues are real, common, and treatable. Certainly a good message to get out there, and I appreciate having it presented to an audience who, perhaps, might not have been exposed to it before.
On the other hand, the ad was clearly hawking a certain treatment facility. I have no idea what kind of reputation this place has – possibly many people have been helped there. But my guess would be, since they’re buying ad time, profit has to be a pretty strong motive.

My own experience with in-patient treatment for brain illnesses was not good. There was a point at the beginning of our journey when my husband was in such a bad way that I made the choice to hospitalize him in hopes of keeping him safe and finding a path to healing. We were forced, due to our not-so-great health insurance company, to place him in a facility that stripped him of dignity, ignored my concerns, and gave us very mixed and negative messages; it was a complete disaster. Before even the first 24 hours were up, I checked him out, for the well-being of both of us.

So, I’m wondering whether a facility that costs a bundle, as I suspect the one advertising on this pop station may, offers better treatment than what we experienced. If a family can afford this kind of treatment, that’s a good thing, right? Or are they just taking advantage of people who are hurting in a nightmarish situation?

Bottom line, I just don’t know. It was definitely food for thought.