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Georgetown Ministry Center Georgetown Ministry Center
March 27, 2014

Where have all the patients gone? 

murphyRepresentative Tim Murphy opened yesterday’s House subcommittee hearing on the shortage of psychiatric beds with this question. A panel of experts, including GMC’s own Gunther Stern, spoke for over two hours about the lack of adequate mental health care and the impact it has on families, taxpayers’ dollars, and our society.

This hearing, held by The Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, is part of the Committee’s ongoing oversight of Federal spending on research and treatments for mental illness. The hearing, as described in the hearing’s memo,  examined “the strain that this shortage exerts on the seriously mentally ill throughout our communities in the form of homelessness as well as increased contact with law enforcement and the criminal justice system, more generally.”

Keep reading for a few excerpts from panelists’ testimonies.

“Hospitals are so overcrowded they often can’t admit new patients and discharge many before they are stable. They become what we call ‘round-trippers’ or ‘frequent flyers’, one officer referred to it as a human “Catch and
Release Program.” … Officers are called to defuse the situation and then have to drive in some cases hours to transport the individual to a hospital, wait hours in the ER, only to find the hospital refuses admission because there are no beds or the commitment standard is so restrictive. The only remaining solution for our officers is to arrest people with serious mental illness for whatever minor violation exists, something we are loathe to do to sick people who need medical help, not incarceration.” – From Chief of Police Biasotti

“The unfortunate and undeniable conclusion is that because of dramatic and sustained cuts in mental health funding, we have criminalized mental illness in this country and county jails and state prison facilities are where the majority of mental health care and treatment is administered.” – From Cook County Sheriff Dart

“In two centuries, we have come full circle, and today our jails are once again psychiatric warehouses. There are two ironies in this chronology that have resulted in the fundamental failure to achieve the goals of the community mental health movement and allowed history to repeat itself in costly and unnecessary ways:

  • First, despite enormous scientific advances, treatment for severe and persistent mental illnesses was never deinstitutionalized, but rather was transinstituionalized from state psychiatric hospitals to jails and prisons.
  • Second, because no comprehensive and competent community mental health treatment system was ever developed, jails and prisons once again function as de facto mental health institutions for people with severe and disabling mental illnesses.” – From Judge Leifman

“What I want to impart here is that people who live on the street are real people with families and hopes and dreams, abandoned because of an illness that has robbed them of their competency. The other important takeaway is that almost all of the people I see on the street are there because they have refused treatment, not for a rational reason, but because the illness has insidiously robbed them of the insight to understand that they have an illness and that treatment can help them.” – From GMC’s Executive Director, Gunther Stern

You can read the entire panel’s full testimonies here. Below is a recording of the hearing. Gunther speaks at 54:30.

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