Madera Unified School District Board Member Lynn Cogdill and others are pursuing an idea which has much merit. They want to see a public psychiatric hospital opened in Madera County.
While the county has a Behavioral Health Services Department, it is mostly an outpatient service. While outpatient services work for some who suffer mental illnesses, other patients need institutional care.
Increases in the numbers of homeless people in Madera and elsewhere in California, and for that matter the nation, are due in part to closures of public psychiatric hospitals which began in the 1970s with the advent of psychotropic drugs. While drugs are very helpful in caring for the mentally ill, monitoring of patients is difficult in an outpatient facility.
While it is true many who are homeless are that way due to economic conditions such as joblessness, many also are on the streets because lack of care facilities leaves them with what they perceive as no choice.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the acutely or chronically ill psychiatric patients “are in dire need of the specialized, intensive treatment that has been delivered since the early 1830s through state hospital systems.”
But since the mentally ill have no lobbyists working for them, state legislatures have been quick to close care facilities to save money.
Overall, says the alliance, many states “appear to be effectively terminating a public psychiatric treatment system that has existed for nearly two centuries. The system was originally created to protect both the patients and the public, and its termination is taking place with little regard for the consequences to either group.”
As a result, those needing inpatient care either hang out on the streets or gravitate to emergency rooms, jails and prisons.
A modern psychiatric hospital in Madera County would help many, and also protect the public. It’s a good goal.