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A National Disgrace

January 17, 2003-- I think you’ll find the enclosed article on care of the chronically mentally ill in the Winter 2003 issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review to be of timely and strong interest. Written by a noted mental-health policy expert, Dr. C. Knight Aldrich, U.Va. Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Family Medicine, it makes an urgent plea for reform, calling for funding of community mental health centers to become a permanent federal responsibility.

The federal government should provide for full care of the severely mentally ill, “not as an experiment but as an ongoing responsibility, was with the medical care of veterans,” Dr. Aldrich writes. He adds that it is unrealistic to expect communities, especially poor communities, to bear these costs. State governments “have consistently made it evident that they cannot or will not adequately support care,” he says.

Bolstering his plea with stories of schizophrenic patients abandoned by society to homelessness or jail, he notes that most community centers struggle to provide good care but have been forced by budget cut after budget cut to limit services. Both private and public mental hospitals now discharge patients so rapidly that doctors and nurses can’t do their full work to prevent future crises.

“Every community mental health center should have emergency, in-patient, day hospital, clinic, rehabilitation, and housing and transportation services geared to the special needs of the schizophrenic and other chronic mental illnesses,” Dr. Aldrich writes.

The federal government should either operate the facilities outright or contract with non-profits to do the job, he says.
“In the long run…a reformed system will more than pay for itself, not in direct savings but in the reduction of the indirect costs of mental illness,” he concludes. “…We have made some progress in overcoming the stigma of mental illness. Our next need is a groundswell of popular support to provide the kind of care that will give [the chronically mentally ill] the opportunity for recovery or rehabilitation that they deserve.”

Dr. Aldrich has worked in and written about community mental health in several cities around the world and has consulted with state mental health departments in Minnesota and Illinois as well as the National Institute of Mental Health.

For interviews or additional information he may be reached at (434) 296-4816. To arrange an op-ed excerpt from this article, please give me a call at (434) 924-6856.

The Virginia Quarterly Review, a national journal of literature and discussion, has been published at U.Va. since 1925.

Contact: Bob Brickhouse, (434) 924-6856

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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