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THOUGHT FOR THE DAY

25 January 2004

How the state of modern mental health
care has destroyed this country

By Nick Markowitz Jr.
GKO Contributing Writer

Recently I was asked to use my skills as a Fire Inspection/ Investigation expert to help the Emsworth, Penn. Fire Chief were I am a member with his inspection of the old Dixmont State Mental Hospital Property. Although much of the 177 structures on the property were abandoned some time ago, as the facility fell on hard times, some of them have been rented to new tenants. It was these facilities that we were inspecting.

I found it ironic that this once bustling State Hospital site, which was once its own self-sufficient community, focused to help the mentally disabled, had changed so much. Frankly, our mental health policy treatment and changes have all but closed most of these sprawling properties, as well as Western Center for Children, Woodville, and most of Mayview and Polk, and other facilities all across the country.

It brought me back to a dinner conversation that I had several years ago with the father of Jeffery Dahmer-yes, that Jeffery Dahmer, the serial killer cannibal from Milwaukee, Wis. In a strange twist of fate, I was able to meet Jeffries' father and step mother at my sister-in-laws' horse farm in Ohio. Mrs. Dahmer is a horse enthusiast and rented a stall from my sister in law.

After I and my relatives, as well as the elder Dahmers, had worked on the farm all day, doing chores and repairs etc., we sat down for dinner together. It was then that I was able to speak with Mr. Dahmer, although all so delicately. He told me how deeply he regretted what Jeffery had done and that he really did not want to talk about it. I respected his wish. I was, however, surprised to learn that during Jeffries' early years they actually lived in Penn Hills, which is not that very far from where I live. When Jeffery's parents divorced, his mother took him to Wisconsin were Mr. Dahmer was only able to keep limited contact with his son. His upbringing was essentially left to the mother.

This is one of many cases were one has to ask, with all the warning signs surrounding young Jeffrey, why did not the mental health community get involved sooner? Why did not Jeffery get treatment sooner instead of being allowed to slip through the cracks, eventually killing many young men and eating parts of them. As you will recall, he was tried for murder and sentenced to life in state prison were he was violently and horrifically killed after being accidentally allowed to enter a non-secure area of the prisons general population.

The problem starts at the entrance at Dixmont State Hospital and all the ancient facilities like it. In the early history of our country, places like Dixmont were built to house and care for the mentally ill, keeping them away from the general public.

For the most part, these facilities were humanely run places. I remember as a child going past Mayview on a weekend trip and how the patients were actively engaged in maintaining the beautiful farms around the property. However, all that stopped in the 1960s when the labor department insisted the patients be paid minimum wage.

The result of the labor department's action was that all these farms, and many other facilities, were eventually abandoned because these organizations could not afford to pay their patients to maintain them. Thus, they fell into disrepair, much like Dixmont, and the arsonist's match destroyed many.

As most of us already know, there were the many horror stories of abuses that were allowed to go on in some of these mental health facilities. In the old days, just the word of a greedy family member or family physician could mean a lifetime of incarceration in such a facility.

There was the case several years back at Mayview were a women spent 58 years in confinement simply because she was found running burned and hysteric in the street after her family was killed in a home fire. She had escaped and, at the time, it was not realized her screams were in Ukrainian. No one understood the language, so they thought she was madly insane. It was only after a Ukrainian language major was working at the hospital as an intern that authorities came to know that their patient had been speaking Ukrainian as the tried to get help. The woman, now very old, has been released after a tragedy that never should have happened.

There is also the movie "Incident in Baltimore," which was shot at the, then closed Woodville. It was based on the real life story of a young woman who had been wrongfully incarcerated and brutalized by the system because of an uncaring mother who had allowed her to be sterilized. And do we dare talk about let cruel lobotomy surgeries that was used to correct extreme behavior that often left patients dead or vegetables?

Today, mental health care has changed significantly because of the abuses that took place in decades past. Instead of the mentally ill being institutionalized, you now see many of them living on the streets homeless. This is because the State is no longer allowed to hold people against their will. If a patient is no longer a danger to themselves or the community at large, they are obligated by law to release them.

Institutions have given way to group homes, which are often times worse than the treatment these patients previously received. This is because privately run group homes see their patients more as cash cows than clients. I have testified to such here in Pennsylvania, as when they closed Western Center. But psychotherapy and medicines, which allow people to live a somewhat normal life in society, has all but eliminated the need for places like Dixmont. And yet, the homeless situation points out, just as the Jeffery Dahmer case did, that what is still wrong is the way we handle mental illness.

In the old days, Jeffery's then reckless behavior would have landed him in a facility for treatment instead of therapists passing him off, one to the other, or simply being ignored. The big homeless problem you see today would not be a problem if places like Dixmont were still available. Many of these patients choose homelessness because they are mentally ill. They refuse to take their medication and are left to live a miserable life on the streets, often involved in crime as either the perpetrator or the victim-instead of a safe facility like Dixmont were they can actually contribute to society.

The homeless do not go to the shelters because they are dangerous and they have to conform to the rules on the street they do what they want. Others are homeless because of job loss, drugs, etc. Wouldn't the public good be better served by helping those with mental heath issues to find their way off the streets and into safe places?

The biggest part of the problem here is the Communist ACLU. It was the ACLU that tangled the rules so much so that people like Jeffery Dahmer run loose instead of being committed to a facility where they can get the treatment they need. Unfortunately, today, a person must nearly become a serious danger to himself or herself or the community until they can legally be placed in a facility for treatment-and then only for a 30-day evaluation! All too often, those who need help who go through such an evaluation are then released to the street. In far too many cases, the only action that has been taken is to give them some pills, an appointment with a therapist, and then they are sent on their way.

The other point that makes in-facility help implausible is the skyrocketing costs associated with mental health treatment, which is due, in part, to lawsuits and laws, which have to be followed.

In closing, once again the bleeding heart liberals have screwed things up. What was once an efficient and safe system for the mentally ill has become a nightmare for most. Instead of truly helping these people, they have seen to it that they are thrown out into the streets and told they are free to live their lives-but are they really? Yes, the old system was not perfect and it had its problems, but instead of working to correct these problems, the commie Leftists among us in the U.S. have totally destroyed it.

Remember Liberal Rule #1: "The result is the exact opposite of the stated intent."

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Copyright©2004
Allan B. Colombo

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in today's Thought For The Day commentary are that of the author and not necessarily that of Al Colombo or others who appear in this publication. Thank you.

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