The story of Napa State Hospital didn’t start with Donna Gross’ death. And it won’t end there either.
Because the Napa State Hospital story is a lot bigger than the mentally ill patients who are housed in Napa Valley, USA. It’s bigger than the violence taking part in the hospital, in my workplace, each and every day. Please read that again, so you really feel it. Each and EVERY day.
What’s going on here? Is it just a bunch of crazy people beating up on each other and anyone who happens to be in the vicinity?
...More of the story after the jump
No. It’s not just a bunch of crazy people hospitalized in some institution. It also has to do with the fact that the people in charge are not really in charge. The Interim Executive Director at Napa State Hospital is a former food service worker at the hospital. Sixteen months ago, she replaced the former Exec. who was arrested for child abuse. At least he was a healthcare professional. Obviously, not an ethical one. The new Exec. doesn’t have a license to practice any form of medicine. This is a hospital, folks. I like her, I think she really is trying to listen, I think her heart is in the right place. But she needs a good team. And a strong team, one that is not afraid to listen from the heart and do the right thing.
The Program Director for one of the more violent units in the hospital is a former singing teacher at Napa State Hospital. She also doesn’t have a license to practice any form of medicine. This hospital is sorely lacking in leadership. Open and active communication, listening and accountable leadership is hiding out somewhere, but I don’t know where yet. Too many people leading this hospital are leading with fear and we all know how far that goes.
Add to that, a wellness and recovery plan instituted several years ago that was never tested, or meant to be used with the forensic population being housed at the mental hospitals these days. But someone, someone else reportedly not licensed to practice medicine in the state of California, sold the state of California a million dollar plus contract to ‘help’ the state mental hospitals do a better job. And that contractor continues to make a whole lot of money every single month on all the billings generated from that contract. You may not know that 90 percent of the patients at Napa State are forensic patients, who came out of the criminal justice system. A far cry from the days of a hospital full of community folks having a ‘breakdown’ and going to the mental hospital for a few weeks or months.
There are still many, many patients with real mental health problems at Napa State. People suffering from symptoms of their paranoia, schizophrenia, some are helped tremendously, they go on, they get out and go onto better lives somewhere. Others, unfortunately do not. These very sick patients, the most vulnerable of the vulnerable, are often victimized by their room-mates, at no fault of their own.
When calls and complaints were made to licensing, and to Cal OSHA, one of the replies was that 'yes, we all know that Napa State is the least secure, and most dangerous of the mental hospitals.' If 'they' are aware of that, why is it still the case?
It’s as if NSH is this microcosm of what we’re doing wrong all around this country. It’s about how we nurture, or don’t, ourselves, our children, our families. It’s about how we do, or don’t, care for each and every one of us. How we do, or don’t educate. Really educate. To become the best we can be. Whatever that best is.
When we ignore the needs of our children, when we turn a blind eye to their need for love and acceptance, we reap what we sow. We have children of all ages out to get any attention they can, any way they can. Negative or positive, it doesn’t matter to confused and neglected and lonely children. Their mental health is compromised at a very young age and it is catching up with all of us. Compromised mental health and the seemingly ignored recognition of needing to do something about it, not only leads to un-cared-for individuals, and patients, it leads to criminals.
The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate of prisoners in the world. The World. Some experts say that 25-30 percent of all inmates are mentally ill. Add to that the deinstitutionalization of mentally ill patients that ramped up in this country 45 years ago, and we start to get a feel for the crisis on our hands. The wild and crazy people are alive and well.
State Mental Hospitals are such a tiny piece of the healthcare pie. To compare a Kaiser hospital corridor with a Napa State corridor would be like taking Snow White to visit Frankenstein. Healthcare reform has long been needed in this country. Just who will all those healthcare providers be? We already have a nursing shortage, fueled in part by the lack of masters prepared teachers to teach those willing and waiting college students. Enrollments are being slashed, not just in nursing, but in all fields of education, fees and tuition costs skyrocket.
It’s doomsday, I tell ya.
Well really, it’s not. Governor-Elect Jerry Brown has recently announced that Diana Dooley will be appointed the next Secretary of the Health and Human Services Agency, the agency that overlooks the Dept. of Mental Health. In addition, Dr. Stephen Mayberg, Director of the Department of Mental Health, retired just this past week. He was the target of many outspoken activists as one of the chief reasons Napa State is in such turmoil.
If each one of us takes to heart that we are accountable for something bigger than ourselves, if each one of us reaches out and speaks up to someone else about the big picture, about what’s important, we are heard. Who do you know that you can give a nudge to? Do you collaborate with California legislators or healthcare people? Do you really care that thousands of patients and state employees are at risk of being assaulted on a daily basis – in a hospital?
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The legislators will make more laws to force people to do the right thing. Bureaucrats will tell us they’ll do the right thing. Donna’s family and friends will continue to mourn and miss her.
As for me, I’ll continue to share the love, feed the village and not be afraid. Continue to push out, stand up and tell the stories for the ones who don’t speak. Play lots of good music to soothe my own soul.
Something has to change.
Something always does.