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D.C. Mental Health Says It Has a Plan, But Where Is It?

Where is the plan?

Nervous city employees in the Community Services Agency of the D.C. Department of Mental Health have been waiting to see exactly how the department plans to contract out public mental health services to private clinics, saving up to $14 million but costing some 200 jobs.

Worried mental health workers sat through a marathon meeting of the D.C. Council shortly before Christmas, hoping for a vote against privatization. But legislation they supported was amended and changed in a way that did not help their cause. During the meeting, the council's health committee said the mental health department was under orders to produce a transition plan on Dec. 31.

That day came and went with no report. Later, department officials said the report was imminent. When it did not arrive imminently, they said again the following week that the report was imminent. Last Thursday, a spokeswoman for the department said the report was "coming today" and would be posted on the Department of Mental Health Web site.

As of this morning, no plan was posted on the site.

A source on the council's health committee, speaking on condition that his name not be used, said, once again, that it was coming today, having been fully vetted by the mayor and others.

Darryl Fears

Meanwhile, hundreds of doctors, clinicians and assistants are wondering when they will have to search for work. The employee unions have said the proposed plan would be unfair to workers and clients who rely on them. Mentally ill patients do not trust easily, and their transition to private clinics will not go smoothly, they warned.

The mental health department serves nearly 15,000 residents, 4,000 of whom are treated by employees at the CSA. Among its many programs are resident training that shows familly members how to attend to mentally disabled relatives. Troubled patients go to pharmacy-equipped clinics for prescription medicine, sometimes on the verge of a mental breakdown.

The mental health department did not respond to questions asking why the transition report has not been delivered. A spokeswoman said only that the report was coming. Councilmember David Catania (I-At Large), chair of the council's health committee and a supporter of the transition plan, also would not comment.

"We had heard that the report was supposed to be out," said Vanessa Dixon, a representative for the Doctors Council of the District of Columbia. "It should have been out."

Dixon offered her own theory for the delay: "It's not based on a sound model," she said of the plan. "It's experimental. When you ask them to explain X, they don't have an answer. One question is how will residents get training if they eliminate outpatient clinics, which house the residency training program? Who will supervise the training?What is going to happen to children's services?"

By Darryl Fears  |  January 21, 2009; 4:41 PM ET
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This is a travesty. It was bad enough when they shut down St. Elizabeth's Hospital, but this is ridiculous. We have so many children that have serious mental health issues, and this will amount to a situation of neglect and irresponsible governance. Children that are born with mental health issues are often at the mercy of parents that just can't address their issues and problems without proper professional help. They can't afford thses services as most of these families are poor. These children comprise a significant percentage of the at-risk population of youth that are shared by the juvenile justice agencies and the child protective service agencies in DC. Yanking the rug of professional mental health support services from underneath their faltering feet is a disgrace and just another immoral act that will eventually end up a huge mistake made by the insensitve individuals at the helm of power. If their children or their newborns had mental health issues or needs, would this even be happening?

Posted by: grafros274 | January 23, 2009 12:54 AM | Report abuse

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