In a perilous new twist to deinstitutionalization, Virginia is turning people so mentally ill that they pose a danger to themselves or others onto the streets because no private psychiatric facility is willing to take them, and insufficient public beds exist to meet their needs.
According to a report released May 30 by the Virginia Office of Inspector General, an estimated 200 people were “streeted” - hospital jargon for the latest in mental health non-treatment - between April 2010 and March 2011. The practice “represents a failure of the Commonwealth's public sector safety net system to serve Virginia's most vulnerable citizens and places these individuals, their families, and the public at risk," the report says. "The fact that approximately 200 individuals, who were evaluated by skilled clinicians and determined to be a danger to themselves or others and lacking the capacity to protect themselves, were denied access to a secure environment for temporary detention and further evaluation, greatly concerns the (Office of the Inspector General)."
As well it should.
And when a practice as inhumane and dangerous as this already has entered professional lingo, we know that Virginia is not the only state where it’s happening. Theoretically, community treatment facilities are supposed to be meeting the needs of individuals with untreated severe mental illness who are not being treated in a hospital setting. Practically, that didn’t happen in the last wave of deinstitutionalization that filled our streets and jails with the mentally ill, and there’s no reason to believe it will happen in this one.
Virginia – and states everywhere – need to aggressively implement their assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) laws as an effective alternative to "streeting" and all the other cruel and risky policies they are practicing in lieu of actually treating their most vulnerable citizens.
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