Missouri's mental health scandal
Missouri is coping with diminishing space and resources in its mental health system by shuffling people around. It’s a rock-bottom strategy that harms families and communities.
The latest maneuver involves moving long-term patients who have committed crimes out of Fulton State Hospital to make room for violent sexual predators, who are being transferred from a treatment center in Farmington.
About 25 patients from Fulton are headed for Kansas City’s Center for Behavioral Medicine, formerly Western Missouri Mental Health Center.
It’s a terrible move, for at least two reasons.
The hospital in Kansas City wasn’t designed to be long-term housing for mentally ill people whose confinement has been ordered by the courts. It doesn’t have adequate exercise or recreational facilities.
And the patients from Fulton will be taking up rooms that are desperately needed to serve mentally ill people in the Kansas City area.
Options are limited as it is. A number of rooms at the state-owned hospital at 1000 E. 24th St. are occupied by people who don’t require acute care, but need to live in secure, supervised housing — a woefully scarce commodity here.
More than a dozen of the hospital’s long-term patients are mentally retarded or have developmental problems. They should be in group homes, but Missouri doesn’t have enough of those either.
That leaves little room for patients in genuine psychiatric crisis. They are sent home to their besieged families or left to haunt the streets, shelters and jails.
All state services have taken a hit in the budget crisis. But Missouri’s shameful neglect of its mentally ill population has deep roots.
Funding for the Department of Mental Health — which provides psychiatric services, substance abuse treatment and care for developmentally disabled citizens — has shrunk from 10 percent of the state’s budget in the mid-1980s to 5 percent today.
Meanwhile, needs have mushroomed. State laws ordering the indefinite confinement of sexual predators are an enormous drain on the mental health budget. More than 150 violent sexual offenders are under care of the Department of Mental Health, which spends $98,915 a year per person on their care and treatment.
That cost is unsustainable, and the success rate of treating sexual predators is very low. State officials and legislators should work out a way to house and treat this population within the Department of Corrections, where the costs would be much less.
Missouri’s latest shuffle of its mental health system further marginalizes struggling patients and families who have nowhere to turn but to the state.
“All we do is push the problem down the road,” said Rebbecca Lake Wood, Jackson County’s court-appointed guardian for hundreds of mentally ill and mentally disabled persons. “And now we’re out of road.”
Missouri can’t solve the crisis in its mental health system by rearranging the parts. Leaders must start working seriously on actual solutions.