Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Re Dix Hill: What about the patients?

The following came from Steve Church of Willow Spring, who read the Aug. 22 blog about what should be done with Dix Hill in Raleigh. The blog was about the concerns of those who want the 306-acre tract for a new park; This reader noted that the needs of mental health patients are rarely mentioned in this debate. Here’s what he had to say:
The passing of the mental health insurance parity bill was a highlight of this past General Assembly and for that I am grateful. I have been advocating for years that people with mental illnesses should have the same respect and opportunity for proper care as anyone who has cancer or heart treatments. This measure will aid many who have been stigmatized and ignored over their lives over their rights to be treated fairly. I applaud our state lawmakers for passing this timely piece of legislation.
I read your August 22 column today concerning what to do with the land at Dix. Like so many articles written about the land and its potential uses, nothing was mentioned about the patients and their care when the hospital closes. I have been writing letters to the editor at the News and Observer for four years and only in the last year have there been positive letters for keeping the hospital open for services. Yes, I realize that the facility is run down and probably cannot be repaired to be a force in the community. We can thank our state and local leaders for defunding our mental health system constantly over the past five years.
Gerry Akland of NAMI (National Alliance of Mentally Ill)- Wake County says that it will take two years or more to implement the continuum community care that Governor Mike Easley and former DHHS head Carmen Hooker-Odom promised years ago when they forced the legislature to prematurely close Dix. We should keep Dix open until these programs are funded adequately and set in place. This has never been about a park or housing state employees on the site; it is about people. It makes all the talk about turning the land into a destination park seem rather trivial and self-serving, don’t you think?
When discussions of what to do with the land crop up, the patient are hardly ever mentioned. The Dix deal was rammed through the legislature during the middle of the night, with no public debate or media coverage. No one questioned our leaders on how and why this action was being taken. We were to assume that they knew what was best for us. This can be corrected if our leaders will hold off on closing Dix until programs can be put in place and working. We will be judged by how we treat our fellow man.
In the meantime, you have park advocates like the ones mentioned in your article that were upset about not getting their way with the General Assembly. Remember that these well minded folks have lobbyists and money galore to be heard in political circles. Who with any real authority works to help the less advantaged? Not these people.
The media has been fairly absent on the Dix subject until the past year. Only when the property seemed up for sale did the developers and park advocates come out of the woodwork to express their views and their unique visions. The patients were never in the equation to terminate the hospital and no one raised a finger to oppose this. Easley and Odom said they would take care of the patients, but they have done a lousy job protecting folks who look to the government only for a fair shake.
Patients will not stop seeking long term care just because our leaders choose to ignore their symptoms. Republicans and Democrats alike should seek investigations on the handling of the closing of Dix and then debate objectively. The conversation on this issue was conveniently framed to fit the wants and desires of the powerful and the influential. Jim Goodman, who is with the Dix Visionaries( I think) is Vice President of Operations at WRALTV in Raleigh. Do you think his network is going to be critical of the present policy?
Closing the hospital with inadequate patient planning was short-sighted, mean-spirited and just plain irresponsible. Keeping patients out of emergency rooms, jails and prisons should be a priority for Easley’s administration but he would rather see the mental health consumers kicked to the curb without prospects for a better life. We owe these patients community service that they can trust and rely on.
Imagine that your life or the lives of your loved ones hinged on how you covered this story once the legislature convenes in the fall. We are all one incident, circumstance or event away from needing mental health services. Cover this story like your family depends on it...cover it like it matters.
Steve Church
Willow Spring, NC

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