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December 24, 2009 at 3:58 PM

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DSHS rules stiffen for mental hospitals

Posted by Letters Editor

Mentally-ill offenders can and do recover

The recent public outcry about the escape of Phillip Paul and subsequent policy changes by the state Department of Social and Health Services [“Rules stiffen to stop escapes,” NWFriday, Dec. 18] misses what we know about recovery from mental illness.

Some people commit terrible crimes when they are psychotic, respond to treatment, and are no longer risks to the community. Others who commit violent crimes while they are untreated, respond to treatment and are safe in the community if they have ongoing outpatient support.

Some never recognize that they have a mental illness, don’t take medication or accept treatment, and remain a long-term threat to community safety, like Paul.

The policy changes miss the point that most mentally-ill offenders don’t need long-term hospitalization or incarceration. The media only report about the minority who are untreated or for whom treatment fails, prompting us to develop public policies that ignore the scientific evidence about the effectiveness of mental-health treatment for most mentally-ill offenders.

It’s time to move beyond worrying about field trips and into debate about responsible public policies that protect the community, while providing support for programs that help most mentally-ill offenders to recover.

— Perry Wien, Seattle, UW School of Social Work affiliate assistant professor

Why are field trips even allowed?

The Seattle Times article indicated that new stringent Department of Social and Health Services rules will be adopted to ensure public safety when patients deemed criminally insane are allowed field trips.

Is it prudent to provide field trips to crowded, family-oriented venues such as county fairs in the first place?

— Charlotte Montgomery, Yakima

Residents at Frances Haddon Morgan Center

Our disabled son is a resident at Frances Haddon Morgan Center, where he was placed after a number of mental-health crises for which he was unable to receive adequate support [“Gregoire lifts budget ax: Don’t make me do this,” page one, Dec. 10].

During his last hospital admission, we were told that should he have a future breakdown, we should call the police since the hospital could do little for him and he needs a level of care not available either at home or in a group home for the disabled.

Thankfully, after further crises, our son was admitted to a staffed residential center, where he has thrived.

He is surrounded by professionals trained to deal with health, behavioral, communication and personal-care issues. As an extremely vulnerable young man unable to defend himself, we especially appreciate the safe environment there. Without such a support structure in place, how are people like him going to be safe and secure?

Should the Department of Social and Health Services really be dismantling a successful and necessary facility when the state lacks the funds to see that these residents can make a safe transition to a residential situation that would continue to meet their needs?

— Cheryl Felak, Seattle

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