Sunday, January 4, 2009

Some Good Comes of Great Evil

Back in the summer I wrote about a terrible situation (What Happened Next) in which our Auntie Bucksnort sought help for a bad bipolar episode at our local emergency room. You will recall that she was handcuffed and shackled and taken to the local jail, where they left her to spend the night on a cold cement floor--no bed, no running water, no toilet, no phone call to her family. This is the way mental illness is treated here in this part of New Mexico.

Apparently, there were already a few people here working to change the system, and Bucksnort's treatment was the straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak. Well, her treatment, and our subsequent blogging about it, and a letter that I wrote to the hospital administrator and to the company that evaluates their services.

After my letter describing what had happened to my sister had made the rounds at the hospital, the administrator called me to offer their abject apologies and to take responsibility and to offer to do whatever was necessary to rectify the situation. He gave me his 24-hour cell phone number. Here are some of the changes that have taken place:

-The sheriff and police have refused to transport mentally ill patients any more.

-An ambulance company is now under contract to move patients from our hospital to the nearest mental health facility.

-Local EMTs are undergoing a certification process so that they can eventually take over the transportation of patients.

-The head of the Emergency Department at our hospital has been replaced.

-Staff at the hospital are undergoing additional training.

-The hospital administrator has offered to meet with Bucksnort, at a place of her choosing, to set up a plan for any future emergencies so that she will feel comfortable entering their institution when needing help.

I'm glad that the hospital has changed its policy, but I wonder why they let things go on this way for so long. I would be shocked if no one else had ever complained about this ridiculously medieval and punitive treatment of the mentally ill.

And here's the problem--the damage has been done and I fear that my sister won't turn to the emergency room the next time she desperately needs help.

I am not a person to talk about suing, but that is what should have happened here. Sadly, Bucksnort couldn't bring herself to talk to a civil rights lawyer about what had happened until fairly recently, only to find out that the statute of limitations for filing a case had just passed.

Just ain't right, is it?


Judy said...

Good for you. I know of a case here in Kentucky where the patient sued the hospital, the city, the police dept.and the doctor at the emergency room. She ended up settling out of court but did get a settlement from the city. These things certainly need to be brought to everyone's attention.

Margie's Musings said...

The trouble with most injustice is that people will not make it known. I am a great one for writing a letter to the editor of the newspaper and getting some action.

clairz said...

Margie, the editor of the local newspaper was one of the first people that I told this story to. It must have been local politics, perhaps, but he decided it didn't constitute "news" and didn't publish anything about it.

June Saville said...

Claire this is great news. What a difference you and Jean have made. A lot of others less able will benefit from this. Wonderful stuff.
I have a mental health carer support group in Oz and we're working to change things here too.
June in Oz

Quiet Paths said...

Yes, I must echo the others. Good for you for speaking out. It might not help your sister sadly, but perhaps someone else down the road. I had to strongly speak out this summer for my mother when she contracted MRSA and the attending doctor was going to send my elderly Dad home with a q-tip and cleanser for her wound. I objected and the doc threw me out of the ER room. She ended up having to go into extended care for over a month because the infection had moved that quickly in a week. We must be advocates. I very much admire what you did.