Local News

Group: State Discharges Mental Patients Without Planning

Posted April 15, 2008

— An advocacy group for the disabled claimed Tuesday that the state Division of Mental Health is discharging patients from psychiatric hospitals without proper planning.

In a 20-page report entitled "Deadly Transitions," Disability Rights North Carolina raised questions about how mental hospitals plan for follow-up care of discharged patients. The group said a lack of planning is a key symptom of the failure of mental health reform in the state.

The report details the recent release of three men from state hospitals who each had a history of mental illness. The men killed themselves or died of drug overdoses within two weeks of being discharged, the report said.

"It's life or death for those who are most vulnerable," said Patsy Thames, whose 16-year-old son was among the three profiled cases.

The teen was having hallucinations when he was admitted to Umstead Psychiatric Hospital last fall. Five days later, he was discharged with a new medication, but no local support services were arranged.

Before his parents could obtain help, the teen ran away and died of a drug overdose.

"We're trying to make his life meaningful to help others," Thames said.

Advocates said the cases highlight a failure to coordinate support services in the community. In one of the cases, a man was discharged from Dorothea Dix Hospital last year to a homeless shelter that has been closed, so he was then dropped off at a hospital emergency room and later was found dead of an overdose at a motel.

"The current system is rife with ambiguity and is without accountability," said Vicki Smith, of Disability Rights North Carolina.

Dr. Jim Osberg, who oversees the state's psychiatric hospitals, said the Division of Mental Health continually evaluates discharge policies. He said the deaths are troubling, but are rare occurrences.

"We think that's an area where we do need to improve," Osberg said.

More than 17,000 patients are discharged from state psychiatric hospitals each year, sometimes because of pressure from a waiting list for admissions. Osberg said that volume of patients is challenging.

"There's no question we're under a huge demand for services in the state hospitals," he said.

The state mental health system is already being examined by federal investigators for suspicious deaths inside psychiatric hospitals.

8 Comments

This story is closed for comments. Comments on WRAL.com news stories are accepted and moderated between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Oldest First
View all
  • nisa-pizza Apr 16, 9:40 a.m.

    The state system has always been insufficient and negligent. My grandmother had to be committed off and on at Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro since she moved in with us when I was young. On her last stay there she had gotten bed sores on her heels and could barely walk and yet they said that "SOMEHOW" she was able to make it down to the creek about 1/2 a mile away and drown herself.

    We believe that she was left unattended in a bath tub since she probably had bed sores on her body and couldn't possibly sit comfortably. We weren't in the financial position to sue since we had a very large family and not alot of money, but I know that it tore my mother apart when she was alive.

    I see from this report that it hasnt' gotten any better.

  • Brick CIty Girl Apr 15, 4:48 p.m.

    As a former employee of the mental health system, I agree, but I won't blame the hospital staff. They do the best they can, but bottom line, there are simply not enough beds in the hospitals for the patients who need them, and not enough community resources to help patients once they are released from the hospital. Treatment of the mentally ill is very expensive, and seems to be something no one wants to pay for, until someone who is mentally ill victimizes someone. With Dix closing, it will only get worse.

  • Redd Apr 15, 1:55 p.m.

    SCARY!!!!!!!!!!

  • TheAdmiral Apr 15, 1:32 p.m.

    I think they discharge them from the hospital and are immediately taken to the Legislature.

    What they do in their is lunacy!

  • lpf88 Apr 15, 1:19 p.m.

    We had to have my dad involuntarily committed last summer. He was out of the hospital in two days, mad at his family, and still no better off.

    This system fails its patients, the families, and our community as its revolving door keeps spinning.

  • mommy2caroline Apr 15, 1:08 p.m.

    And this is what makes my job harder every day.

  • Adelinthe Apr 15, 1:00 p.m.

    AMEN!!!

    Praying for them and us.

    God bless.

    Rev. RB

  • FragmentFour Apr 15, 12:34 p.m.

    Dr. Jim Osberg, who oversees the state's psychiatric hospitals, said the Division of Mental Health continually evaluates discharge policies. --WRAL

    Whoohoo - they're watching the disaster! What a waste...