Thursday, November 21, 2013

Chris Abele and Gus Deeds

Early Tuesday morning, Virginia State Senator and former gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds was stabbed by his son.  His son then committed suicide.  It was later reported that the son, Gus Deeds, had a mental illness.

In fact, the younger Deeds had been evaluated just the day before and found in need of care - care he did not receive:

It’s quite rare that a public tragedy allows us to connect dots this clearly, but the horrifying case of Gus Deeds stabbing his father, Virginia politician Creigh Deeds, is one such case. We begin with this sentence, from the Richmond Times-Dispatch account of the incident:
The son was evaluated Monday at Bath Community Hospital, Cropper said, but was released because no psychiatric bed could be located across a wide area of western Virginia.

Hmmm. And why would that be so? Just one of those things? The usual pre-Thanksgiving rush? Not really. As Think Progress notes, the likely culprit here is that Virginia cut funding for psychiatric beds by 15 percent between 2005 and 2010. Certainly, 2005 would mean the cuts started under Democratic governors—first Mark Warner, and then Tim Kaine. They continued under current GOP Governor Bob “Rolex” McDonnell, who then proposed even deeper cuts last year.

What’s going on in Virginia is going on nationally. Try this statistic on for a shocker. The per capita state psychiatric bed population in 2010 in the United States was identical to the figure for 1850. Yes, 1850, around when the very idea of caring for mentally ill people first started! Then and now, the number 14.1 beds per 100,000 population.

Between 2009 and 2012, states cut $4.35 billion from mental health services, which eliminated nearly 10 percent of all beds in just those three years. This is while 10 percent more people have been seeking services. I remember when I covered state and local politics in New York, mental health services were always among the first things on the chopping block. No constituency with any political power at all, just a bunch of do-gooders pleading for officials to do the right things. Which in fairness a lot of them want to do, but most don’t end up doing.
On the same day of the tragedy, Milwaukee County Emperor Chris Abele felt that he knew better than common sense and proudly announced that he vetoed the amendments that the County Board made to the 2014 budget putting safeguards in regarding his desire to close the mental health complex. One of the amendments he vetoed included a study to make sure that there were enough beds to meet the needs of our most vulnerable citizens:
Abele said the county has a moral obligation to move patients from the complex who are able to be more independent into less restrictive settings. Patients will not be moved until there are appropriate places for them to live, he said.

"I won't compromise the health of any patient," Abele said.

He'll veto a $100,000 study on whether there's capacity in the community to take on dozens of patients who would be removed from the complex under Abele's timetable; cancel a board move to salvage 45 community care county jobs Abele wants to outsource; and veto a transfer of $100,000 for a case manager for supportive housing that the board voted to redirect to the AIDS Resource Center.

He'll also veto a requirement for quarterly reports tracking what's happened to patients moved from the complex, Abele said. The board can have its lobbyist get that information from the state, he said.
To put it plainly, Abele is lying through his teeth. His plan is already not working, with the majority of people he's kicked out of the hospital returning soon after their discharge.  And that doesn't even go into the danger to public safety that has already occurred because of Abele's negligence and his abdication of his duties.

Abele accused the Board of making the amendments to appease the county workers who would be laid off because of his austerity measures.

Supervisor Peggy Romo West quickly put that straight with the truth.  It wasn't the workers, it was the directors of the private hospitals that said they didn't have enough beds:
The Board voted last week to amend the 2014 County budget to include a capacity study so it could be determined whether there is enough space in the community to allow closure of residential units at the Behavioral Health Division that currently house consumers with mental illness and place them in community settings. The study would cost approximately $100,000, but Romo West said such a study was crucial before moving forward with a more community-based model.

“The leaders of four of Milwaukee County’s hospital systems believe that no additional inpatient beds or outpatient services should be cut until this analysis is complete,” said Romo West, Chairwoman of the Health and Human Needs Committee and sponsor of the amendment. “This County Board is in full support of a community-based model of care, but we must ensure before anyone is placed in the community that proper placements are available for them in addition to having in place the supports needed to ensure their success in the community, especially now as we begin to place our most acute consumers in community settings.”

Romo West said the capacity study would project for the County public and private inpatient and outpatient service demand based on population, acuity, age, payer mix, average length of stay, reimbursement, care delivery and management model and seasonal fluctuation projections.

“I want to see numbers,” she said. “The County Executive has said that we don’t need another study. However, this study should have been done before we began community placements at all, particularly with the changes coming with the Affordable Care Act and the recent closure of more psychiatric beds in Milwaukee County. This study is needed to realize the impact these items will have on our ability to appropriately place and support our consumers in the community. In addition, this resolution calls for creation of a surge capacity contingency plan that would ensure that back-up services and resources are in place for times of high need for our consumers.

“This study is overdue. If these individuals do not successfully make the transition to community-based care, then we are emptying our units at BHD only to fill our jails, homeless shelters and, God forbid, our morgue with consumers we are charged with protecting and providing services for. If this study prevents that, then I am 100 percent committed to making that happen.”
While Abele's efforts to make government as efficient as possible is a laudable goal, it has to be tempered with accountability, responsibility and common sense.  Saving a taxpayer thirteen cents isn't much of a saving if they have to fear for their safety and their lives.  And for Abele to propose slashing services and inpatient psychiatric care in the face of the Deeds tragedy shows just how much Abele is out of touch with the community.

The County Board will vote on Abele's vetoes Thursday. It is their duty and onus to override these vetoes. They are now the only ones that could help keep tragedies like that which befell the Deeds family from happening again here.


  1. I wish someone would primary Abele. Another fake Democrat running a stealth privatization agenda.

  2. There seems to be a rush in the private non-profit world to open more beds, but I fear it won't happen fast enough.