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Assisted Living for the Mentally Ill - Care? Or a Crime?

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The Miami Herald has published a scathing and heartbreaking investigative series on the deadly neglect that people with severe mental illness are experiencing in Florida.

In a report on conditions in assisted living homes, the Herald examined 1,083 facilities that house people with mental illness and reported that:

  • Regulators find nearly twice the rate of abuse and neglect at the special homes, including caretakers beating and sexually molesting residents.
  • State agents have caught nearly 100 homes using illegal restraints since 2002 — including doping residents with tranquilizers without doctor’s approval, tying them with ropes and locking them in isolation rooms — only to catch them doing it again.
  • Florida’s requirements to run a home for people with mental illnesses are among the lowest in the nation: a high school diploma and 26 hours of training — less than the state requirements for barbers, cosmetologists and auctioneers.
  • Caretakers are routinely caught intoxicated, asleep and even abandoning their posts entirely — often with severe consequences to residents, but rarely to the operators.

The article is one in a series tellingly entitled, "Neglected to death." Ironically, Florida lawmakers are currently considering a 60% reduction in mental health funding and turning psychiatric hospital patients onto the streets with no housing at all (see "In Florida: Draconian cuts to already strained mental health services").

“Created a generation ago, the special homes were the state’s answer to providing housing for the thousands left in the streets after the historic closings of Florida’s psychiatric institutions,” according to "At homes for the mentally ill, a sweeping breakdown in care" by Herald reporters Carol Marbin Miller, Rob Barry and Michael Sallah.

The shift they describe wasn’t limited to Florida – nor is the devastation it produced. Deinstitutionalization swept the country in the second half of the 20th century, reducing the number of state psychiatric beds by 90% and turning millions of people into homeless wanderers, convicted criminals and victims of crime and suicide. Coincidentally, the same day that brought us the Miami Herald report produced a report from New Jersey about a brutal attack that left a 64-year-old Newark woman living ina boarding home on a ventilator in an ICU.

In New Jersey, Sen. Richard J. Codey – a staunch champion for quality care for the mentally ill – declared “Shame on us in state government for placing patients in this home.”

Indeed. And shame on Florida for accepting the conditions described by the Miami Herald stand as the state’s "answer" to housing the state’s most fragile citizens. This is a crime, not care.

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