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Cuts mean end of safety net By Will Van Sant, St. Petersburg Times Staff Writer. Judy Turnbaugh Comments on SRT Closure.
Published Monday, July 28, 2008 7:19 PM Transcript below or at http://www.tampabay.com/news/health/article744845.ece
Hernando Co. Mental Health Court? http://www.sptimes.com/2008/02/17/Hernando/Mental_health_court_w.shtml
C.I.T. In Action on Dunedin Causeway
St Pete Times March 31st 2008
Response Letters: April 17th
Cuts mean end of safety net
By Will Van Sant, St. Petersburg Times Staff Writer
Published Monday, July 28, 2008 7:19 PM
Her adult son, a University of Florida graduate, returned home in 2007 after several years on his own. His severe depression mounted. He stopped eating and drinking and retreated to his room.
After improving for a time, he had another flare-up in November and disappeared, deciding to sleep in the woods.
That's how Adam, 37, ended up spending six weeks in a short-term residential treatment program offered in Pinellas Park by a nonprofit called Personal Enrichment through Mental Health Services, or PEMHS.
"It was such a gift to me that he was getting medical attention, he was getting diagnosed, they had nurses on staff who were caring for him," said his mother, Dianne, 65, a Palm Harbor resident and former middle school teacher. "If it weren't for this facility, I don't know what would have happened to him."
Now, due to budget cuts from Tallahassee, people in Pinellas like Dianne and Adam, whose last names are being withheld because of the nature of Adam's illness, are without a safety net. On July 1, PEMHS ended its short-term residential program, the only option for such care in Pinellas for mentally ill indigent people and those without adequate insurance.
The program served as an alternative to state mental hospitals for those needing to be monitored and stabilized. It offered 12 beds, and served more than 50 clients last year. Without the program, advocates say, those in need will further burden area emergency rooms and jails.
"That is just catastrophic," said Judy Turnbaugh, president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Pinellas County. "We have so many people who are in jail now who should not be there. They are ill."
Turnbaugh's younger brother is schizophrenic. He's 59 and had his first episode at 17. Turnbaugh said her brother was helped during several critical points in his life by the program, which was in existence for 10 years.
Here's why the program was cut.
PEMHS offers a variety of mental health services. One vital role is providing crisis care to the thousands of Pinellas residents taken into custody each year under the state's Baker Act because they are a danger to themselves or others.
In 2007, the Legislature gave PEMHS $1-million to help support crisis care efforts. That amount dropped to $400,000 this year. The Legislature allocated no money for crisis care next year.
In order to keep serving the high number of Baker Act cases it gets, PEMHS had no choice but to end the residential treatment program and use that money, about $1-million a year, to keep crisis care services afloat, said executive director Tom Wedekind.
"We had to go where the highest demand was at this point," Wedekind said. "There is no question that demand (for mental health services) is far outreaching the revenues."
Turnbaugh agrees that Wedekind had to end the program, but predicts many will suffer.
"What is going to happen to these people who need some time to get back on their feet?" she asked.
It's unlikely they'll be as fortunate as Adam, who according to his mother is still fragile, but living in a group home, much improved and working part time.
"People who are in the poorest, most desperate situations are going to be affected by this closing," she said.
Will Van Sant can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4166
July 28, 2008 St. Petersburg Times Letter to the Editor
A sensible plan to cut prison cost July 21, editorial
Not a job for jails
The Department of Corrections wants to build "state jails" in local
communities. Since most jail and prison populations are overcrowded with
persons with mental illness, these people ought to be released to mental
health treatment facilities. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates
that 15 to 50 percent of those confined suffer from a mental illness. The
recovery rate for mental illness is higher than that for cancer or heart
Too often mental illnesses are not treated by the medical system, they are
treated by the criminal justice system — from an initial response by the
police to long-term "treatment" in a correctional facility.
In Pinellas County, lack of funding just closed the short-term residential
treatment facility for persons with mental illness. Such facilities are a
much needed piece of the puzzle to recovery for those apparently not so
unstable as to require hospitalization, but not stable enough to be released
into the community.
Persons with mental illness can look forward to a "locked-down" facility. It
just won't be the short-term residential treatment; it will be the "state
jail." What a cruel joke.
Donald Turnbaugh, past president, NAMI Pinellas County (National Alliance on
Mental Illness), Palm Harbor
TO: St. Petersburg Times, March 28, 2008
RE: “Stabbed boy’s mother is bipolar, records show” Published March 24, 2008
Mental Health Coverage Still Lacking in Florida By Donald Turnbaugh
At the very time this apparently deranged woman stabbed her son, the Florida legislature was once again going through various machinations over bills (HB-19 & S-164) that would mandate health insurance companies to provide equal coverage for mental disorders as they do for physical illnesses. Although 46 other states have some form of parity, certain Florida legislators choose to believe the scare tactics of the health insurance lobbyists. They ignore study after study showing the increase in cost is marginal, if any.
The real issue here is not cost, but discrimination.
Mental illness is one of the few remaining subjects that has escaped the ‘protection’ of compassion, decency, or even political correctness. Over the past 10 years, no amount of advocacy or education has been able to convince them to support fair legislation.
No one can say that this stabbing would not have happened if the woman had health coverage. Statistically, persons with mental illnesses, who receive proper treatment, have a high level of recovery, higher than many physical illnesses. Real equality in health insurance will provide benefits far beyond those with these debilitating illnesses. The entire community benefits by gaining working, tax paying citizens who contribute to society instead of consuming the resources in crisis units, ERs, jails, prisons, the courts, and an array of other social services.