Families of Mentally Ill Ready For Change

Health service consumers to taxpayers are concerned about the changes that are taking place in how Texas delivers social services. Right now, the state is in the midst of merging 12 agencies into four departments, all overseen by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

Friday at a mental health conference in Nacogdoches, mental health advocates learned how these policy changes will affect them. Two parents are hopeful the transformation will be good for not only them, but for all Texas residents, as well.

Lyle Moel and his wife, Jo are stake holders in a mental health system that they say has failed. In the early 80s, their son was diagnosed with schizophrenia. They join others who want better services for their loved ones.

"When you wake up in the morning, you are no better off than you were yesterday - maybe worse off because the services are not there. And it's just so much bureaucracy in the system and it needs to be changed, and will be changed thanks to House Bill 2292," said Moel.

It's time for a revolution is what consumers in the mental health system have decided is necessary. Their collective voice for reform comes from mental health policy consultant Joe Lovelace.

Like the Moels, Lovelace too has a schizophrenic son. Lovelace uses that experience in his talk.

"You know what insanity is? And I can say this. Insanity is when you do the same thing that won't work over and over and over again. We had an insane mental health policy," said Lovelace.

The time for systems change will come through House Bill 2292, believes Lovelace. The Alliance of the Mentally Ill, known as NAMI, favors the consolidation of agencies that's designed to save at least 389 million dollars over the next five years, but is making many state workers nervous in the process.

During transformation Lovelace lets consumers' desires be known.

"NAMI supports the existence of a publicly operated state hospital system. We do not support privatization. Period," said Lovelace.

What these parents want is an integrated, coordinated system of care. Hopefully, the results won't come too late for their sons.

More Changes

Among the changes, House Bill 2292 is addressing better disease management, so that people with mental illness aren't suddenly thrown into jail when their medications don't work.

A typical scenario is like an event that happened just last week in Livingston with a mental health patient, said Denise Francis, Director of New Horizon's Peer Support Group.

"She wound up in the hospital, and she was lashing out at the doctors and nurses. I don't know what they were doing or not doing, and so, when she did that, they called the police on her and arrested her and put her in jail and they handcuffed and shackled her to her bed and put her in a padded cell," said Francis.

The woman is now being treated at a mental health hospital, but the peer group believes that's where she should have gone first. They held a candlelight vigil Thursday night in Livingston and plan another one for next month to bring awareness to critical mental health situations.

Memorial Medical Center Hospital Administrator James Dickson said the hospital followed proper procedure. That procedure is to arrange for a transfer, but if the staff feels at risk, they're instructed to call the sheriff's department.

Meanwhile, public forums are being conducted across the state to help set new policies.