Wednesday, March 06, 2013

My Patient Is Not A Peanut Butter Cup

On CBS news yesterday I saw this report about mentally ill people who end up in jail. The sheriff of the Cook County jail complained that psychiatric patients who don't take their medication become criminals and added, "We're not a mental health facility. These people should not be here.''

Simultaneously this week in the Baltimore Sun we have this story, where hospital workers complained because malingering criminals were being held at their facilities.

This week's news is a terrific example of what I call the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup problem of forensic patients. (I put up the old commercial for reference.) Each side is basically complaining that they have to provide care for someone. Nevermind that people can't be cleanly divided between the "mad" and the "bad," or that people who "only" have personality disorders can still die from those disorders. We waste a lot of time and energy arguing about who should be where and who should be doing what.

The bottom line is that we have to figure out how to deliver the right care to the patient regardless of the setting. Forensic patients require treatment as well as security. That sheriff needs to realize that his facility will always require a psychiatric infirmary and mental health services and that he's not going to be able to "clean house" off all the psych patients. Similarly, hospital workers can't write off every assaultive patient as being "just a sociopath."

We need to beef up hospital security so everyone, patients and staff alike, can feel safe. And jails need to be given enough mental health staff so the administrators won't feel like they're being overrun with chaos.

Getting rid of the patient is never the right answer to a health care system problem.