Workers at La Bit’s Heating and AC Services (in Mobile Alabama) have been living in fear for weeks, afraid of what 35-year-old Kenneth McGee would do next.
“They were minding their own business, and then here they are the subject of a random attack by someone who lives in the neighborhood. And they don’t deserve that,” said Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich.
Workers say the bizarre behavior started last month with McGee hiding in the bushes, watching the business. Investigators say he threw a brick through a windshield and punched their mail box. Rich says McGee was released from Searcy Hospital (a state mental institution) last year when it closed, and prior to that, he had been in and out the facility for more than a decade. She believes it was a mistake to shut the facility down because her office is now dealing with people who should be in a mental health facility.
“It is very frustrating, and it’s something we’re seeing more and more of,” said Rich. “We were extremely disappointed when they closed Searcy because that was the facility closest to Mobile County.”
We, as are other states, are in a bit of a budget bind. It seems that “No new taxes” often conflicts with “services needed for the good of the citizens.” Nowhere is that more apparent than in the field of major mental illness such as schizophrenia. Most people with a major mental illnesses have done nothing to bring it on themselves, are disabled from a young age so have no money saved to pay for treatment, and may be alienated from their support system as a consequence of, well, the difficulty of coping with someone who has a major mental illness.This is compounded by the fact that folks with this disease are often stigmatized by their behaviors, so much so that the name of an asylum in England became synonymous with “uproar and confusion.”(bedlam)
The state of Alabama plays its own part in the dynamic tension between the needs of the state and the desire of the people not to pay for needed services. A suit filed in 1970 (Wyatt vs Stickney) became a landmark ruling that created a mandate to actually provide treatment for folks with mental illness who are held for treatment. The attorney for Ricky Wyatt, the 1970s plaintiff, alleged the following:
that patients received inadequate treatment and that the hospital was understaffed and underfunded. Of its 5,000 patients, 1,600 were geriatric patients and more than 1,000 were mentally retarded, both groups receiving custodial care but no psychiatric treatment. In terms of staffing, the hospital employed 17 physicians, 12 psychologists with varying academic qualifications and levels of experience, 21 registered nurses, 13 social service workers, 12 patient-activity workers, and approximately 900 psychiatric aides to treat the 5,000 patients. The employees whose duties involved direct patient care in the therapeutic programs, however, included only one clinical psychologist, three medical doctors with some psychiatric training, and two social workers. Alabama’s daily expenditure per patient was $6.00, with a daily food allowance of less than $0.50, compared to the national average of $15.00 a day
The case lasted 15 years with appeals and resulted in the Department of Mental Health operating under an injunction which lasted until 2003. At that time Alabama was found to be in compliance with the “constitutional right of civilly committed mental patients to receive adequate treatment” and the case was closed.
In 2009 (6 years after federal oversight ceased), the budget cuts started.
From 2009 to 2012, Alabama cut its total general fund mental health budget from $100.3 million to $64.2 million, according to NAMI. Only South Carolina (39 percent) experienced a deeper percentage of cuts. Medicaid is the largest source of financing public mental health services, accounting for nearly 50 percent of all public sector spending. NAMI argues that although using Medicaid is a laudable strategy, there are millions of individuals with serious mental illness who do not have access to Medicaid.
When the cuts began, it was clear that indiscriminate cuts would lead to problems:
Switching mental health care to community programs is a good idea “as long as enough funding comes to the community to support the lack of having institutional beds,” Tuerk Schlesinger, CEO of AltaPointe Health Systems in the Mobile area, told AL.com last February. Without that support, the community won’t be able to care for patients previously staying in state hospitals, Schlesinger said.
Although the Mental Health Commissioner could not be reached for comment regarding Mr McGee’s case, he was quoted in 2012
The future of mental health emphasizes greater independence for the consumer, then-Alabama Department of Mental Health Commissioner Zelia Baugh said at a November 2011 town hall meeting in Mobile.
“People can always eat,” Baugh said, “but if you teach them to fish, that’s a life lesson.”
Isn’t that from the book of Hezekiah in the Bible? No, wait, I’m thinking about the story about the loaves and the fishes…Jesus FED people fish!