Isle workers brace
for New York
mental health patient

A New York facility wants the
patient to be taken to a homeless
shelter when he arrives Dec. 2

By Helen Altonn

Hawaii mental health workers are appalled that a New York treatment facility plans to pay for a plane ticket for a client to come here and live at a homeless shelter.

The New York organization asked United Self-Help to pick up the client when he arrives Dec. 2 and take him to the Institute for Human Services.

Bud Bowles, executive director of United Self-Help, said his agency will accommodate the request but "we're having enough trouble taking care of our people."

Only about 8,000 of Hawaii's 25,000 seriously mentally ill residents are being served by public and private agencies, he said. "To release someone, to pay for their trip here, if that's the case, is unbelievable." He said his organization has had to send some mainland clients back to relatives because their condition worsens here without family or some kind of supporting network.

Tracie Kam, a University of Hawaii graduate student working as an assistant at United Self-Help, said a caseworker called from New York about discharging a client and sending him here. He said the man is on medication and supposedly stable, she said.

"He said the client used to live here a few years back and wants to return but has no resources or contacts here."

The caseworker said the mental health treatment center in New York, operated by the Federation Employment Guidance Service or FEGS, is paying the airfare and he wanted someone from United Self-Help to meet the client and take him to IHS, Kam said.

"That's not a treatment plan -- to put someone in a homeless shelter," said Dr. Thomas Hester, chief of the state Health Department's Adult Mental Health Division.

"This is an example of poor treatment planning and it's reminiscent of what people used to call 'Greyhound therapy' and put them on a bus and send them out of state to get them off their rolls."

Hester said he has asked Randolph Hack, consumer advisor in the division, to contact FEGS to obtain more information and see if the man wants to be connected to services.

"We'll have to sort him out, just like anybody who comes," he said. "What we want to do is find out more about his clinical needs. We don't know the legal status of this person or anything."

United Self-Help has support groups and mentoring for mental health consumers but has no resources to take care of someone from New York, Kam said. "Certainly, it is not a service we provide regularly.

"They're discharging him to nothing,'' she said. "They're setting him up to fail in a homeless condition. Certainly, that is not doing him any good."

The New York caseworker, Shawn Battles, told the Star-Bulletin by telephone that the client was in a day treatment residence and can't be discharged without a plan. He said the man wants to return to Hawaii where he once lived.

The caseworker referred further questions to his supervisor, who said he couldn't discuss the case because of confidentiality.

Kam said FEGS appears to be a large private nonprofit organization established by the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York to provide health and human services.

"My heart just sank when I realized the phone number (for the caseworker) was for residential services," Kam said. "It is a big transition from residential treatment to a homeless facility."

She said she made an appointment for him Dec. 26 at the Diamond Head Community Mental Health Center but it doesn't provide housing.

"I hate it when I hear of other states using us for a dumping ground, sending people who are mentally ill over here because they think they can, and they end up living on the street or under a bridge," said David Berggren, psychiatric social worker.

"They go untreated and unmedicated and end up in our mental health system," said Berggren, who runs PDMI Care, a private mental health agency for the physically disabled mentally ill. He also heads the Hawaii Chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI).

"Oftentimes, we are unable to find out what their history is, what the psychiatric care has been, what medications have been tried on them, what the family history involves," he added. "All of that is crucial to recovery treatment plans."

Berggren said IHS "does a wonderful job but they're not a discharge zone." The state hospital and private hospitals that used to discharge people to IHS aren't allowed to do that any more, he said.

"So if agencies on the mainland are trying to use that as a transition plan, that's not appropriate. Most people that end up there end up decompensating and involved in the emergency room or some psychiatric lock-down facility."

IHS Executive Director Lynn Maunakea said United Self-Help told her of the situation but she has no information about the man or his support.

"Every now and then we hear of someone on a one-way ticket (here). This seems to be one of those cases," she said.

"If he does end up on IHS's doorstep, we'll do what we can to get him out of homelessness as soon as we can."

Institute for Human Services

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