Psychiatric patients are in danger

Major health care providers, in the 2011 legislative session, opposed Senate Bill 55, which would, if passed, improve grievance procedures for psychiatric patients. Some psychiatric patient advocates believe patients need a better grievance procedure law.

Do psychiatric patients need a better grievance procedure law? Generally that debate takes place in the courtroom in places like Maine and Georgia, where the states waited until enough patients were abused or died. Alaska psychiatric patients are lucky because the debate is taking place in the Alaska Senate.

Nothing in the current grievance procedure law AS47.30.847 allows psychiatric patients to file a formal appeal of a poorly resolved grievance to a state agency or any other agency outside of a psychiatric institution. Who will speak for the patients in this debate? Psychiatric patients are in danger without a more comprehensive grievance procedure law.

Currently, psychiatric patients are locked (sometimes literally) in a health care system that depends on profits and are left vulnerable when they cannot, in a fair way, file a complaint in an institution or an appeal to the state.

At upwards of $1,000 a day for patient care, acute care psychiatric patients are sometimes viewed as a cash cow by many organizations. And not just because of the money but because of their mental illness, patients do not always have a strong voice.

Generally any health care organization or individual that makes a lot of money doesn’t want to change the system, especially when there is no profit. It is psychiatric patients that need and want the better grievance procedure law, not the psychiatric institutions and not necessarily patient advocacy organizations. It is the psychiatric patients that need and want a better grievance procedure—so that they can protect themselves.

Patients need a grievance procedure statute that lets the patient file a grievance at the time of their choosing, requires due process for a patient’s complaint, and has an appeal process to the state. The current law, AS47.30.847, does not do that and all too often psychiatric institutions and units take advantage of that fact.

As citizens we can give patients a way to protect themselves by passing a new statute that would promote better grievance procedures for psychiatric patients.

Faith Myers

Dorrance Collins

Anchorage

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