Wednesday, September 16, 2015

When Our Health Care Systems Fail, Jails House Our 'Refuse'

RMH/Sentara website
"Give me your tiredyour poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, (your) wretched refuse..."

- Emma Lazarus

These words inscribed on the Stature of Liberty could well be on the entrances of our jails and prisons, but as a message of despair rather than of hope. It is sad that these facilities have become the human landfills of last resort for those not only who commit crimes and/or are waiting their trials, but also for the homeless, mentally ill and substance addicted for whom we have no alternative solution.

The following is a recent case in point:

Joe Smith (not his real name) was found by someone at Our Community Place in extreme physical and mental distress over a week ago due to an overdose of K-9, a synthetic form of marijuana. "Joe", in his mid-forties, is alcoholic and chronically homeless, and has been a frequent guest and volunteer at OCP.

Joe had already lost bowel control and was in and out of a comatose state when he was picked up off the street and brought to OCP for help. A staff member there called the Community Services Board, who agreed to see him for an assessment. 

After three hours at the CSB, Joe was told that he could become a part of their outpatient program and be put on a list to receive acupuncture and other substance abuse treatment, but since he had no insurance that would cover inpatient treatment--and the only such facility that would be available had a waiting list of over a year--that there was nothing they could do help him. So they recommended he be taken to the emergency room at RMH/Sentara. 

There Joe had to wait for three hours for the psych evaluation team, who after several more hours told him that unless he could be diagnosed as acutely mentally ill and/or suicidal, that they simply had no bed available for him. This in spite of his literally begging for medical and other help to detox and to save his life.

Since the OCP also has no beds for such people, Joe had to be put back out on the streets, where the next morning a police officer found him lying along the sidewalk in a stupor. So he was picked up and brought to jail, where he will remain until he has his court date in several weeks.

In jail. Locked in a steel cage for lack of a detox treatment center.

Can't our community do better than that?
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