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My Turn: Alaska continues to fail at properly caring for the disabled

Posted: January 10, 2017 - 12:00am

Five days ago, the Director of Behavioral Health, Randall Burns, reported to the Trust Authority Board that because of overcrowding, 17 adults and two adolescents are on the waiting list to receive treatment at acute care Alaska Psychiatric Institute. The 10-bed forensic unit is over capacity and some forensic patients are housed and evaluated in non-forensic units.

Reported overcrowding means that psychiatric hospitals are either not inclined to accept new patients or inclined to release patients early before completion of their treatment to a point where too often released patients become a danger to themselves or others.

Overcrowding in an acute care psychiatric hospital reduces the opportunity for psychiatric patients to stabilize before being released.

Forensic patients are sometimes placed on a hospital unit in with regular patients. In all probability against the law — doing so stigmatizes patients who have not committed a crime — treats them like criminals.

Dual diagnosis mental illness/Alzheimer’s patients need beds in a secure setting. As of now, some are housed in Alaska Psychiatric Institute. The prognosis is that this type of patient will be on the increase in the future.

Regardless of the administration, Alaska continues to fail at properly caring for the disabled.

Some of the failures: never giving proper rights in law to the disabled to protect themselves, including the grievance procedure law.

The state should never have sold the old API hospital. The building should have been used by the state to transition acute care psychiatric patients to the community. A crisis treatment center, housing for low-risk seniors with dementia and mental illness, or individuals not acceptable to nursing homes.

The new API hospital should never been built only to house 80 patients — the hospital should have been larger.

The forensic unit at API should have been more than 10 beds — it should have been 30 beds.

It is going to take good men and women who advocate to put pressure on the state to improve the rights of the disabled. As of now, Alaska is about 30 years behind best practice.

• Faith Myers and Dorrance Collins are mental health advocates who reside in Anchorage.

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