Monday, April 13, 2009

Skid Row, Schizophrenia,The Soloist

Last week, the LA Times reported that College Hospital in Costa Mesa, 40 miles south of LA, "dumped" Steven Davis, whom they had diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar, and schizoaffective, outside of Union Rescue Mission located along LA's infamous Skid Row.

Literally, the hospital loaded him into a van, drove him 40 miles north, and dropped him on the street. This is what they call a "dump." College Hospital dumped Steven Davis the way some people dump their excess garbage in shopping mall dumpsters - surreptitiously, with hopefully no one watching.

But the Union Rescue Mission was watching, and when they complained, the van returned - and dumped Steven outside another shelter.

The city attorney reported that College Hospital was responsible for dumping 150 mentally ill in this fashion over 2007-2008. Steven Davis was a key to the city attorney's office making its criminal case. As part of a settlement, the hospital will pay $1.6 million in penalties and charitable donations.The hospital denies any wrongdoing.

In case you are experiencing deja vu, Michael Moore's 2007 documentary, "Sicko," showed security cam footage of a 63-year-old homeless and disoriented woman, Carol Reyes, wearing only a thin hospital gown, dumped in front of the same Union Rescue Mission by Kaiser Permanente's Bellflower Hospital.

Criminal charges were filed against the hospital's officials, and Kaiser paid a large settlement. LA authorities have been cracking down on dumping.

Doing something about Skid Row is far more problematic, an approximate 4x4 square block area where 7,000 to 8,000 homeless - many of them with mental illness - sleep on filthy streets, conveniently out of sight and out of mind to the rest of the world.

On April 24, Hollywood will be giving the area a lot more visibility. That is the day of the much-anticipated release of "The Soloist," starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr, based on a book of the same name by LA Times columnist Steven Lopez. The book and movie chronicle the unlikely friendship forged on Skid Row between Lopez and Nathaniel Ayers, a gifted cellist who lost his mind to schizophrenia while attending Julliard.

We see only the homeless. But Nathaniel's story is all too typical. Think of schizophrenia as a developmental disease. Kids are leading normal lives. Then - at say age 17 - something happens. One minute they're doing well in school and looking forward to college. Then they start acting a bit strange. Then - bam! - all at once, they are robbed of their minds, their humanity - everything.

Just like that it's over. The illness has a poor outcome, made much poorer by our appalling health care system and the unconscionable way our winner-take-all society turns its back on people they view as losers.

I'm sure "The Soloist" will bring this out loud and clear. I loved "Shine." I loved "A Beautiful Mind." I'm sure I will be profoundly moved by "The Soloist." But if nothing changes for the better in this country as a result, then there will be no feel-good ending.

The Soloist trailer.


Lizabeth said...

I appreciate the intent of those that make movies about these problems but I am afraid viewing the movies gives people a false sense of accomplishment. They subconsciously think they have helped solve the problem because they watched the movie.

I think there is something seriously wrong with the distribution of resources in our country. Some people have nowhere to live and no medical care even when really ill and other people can't remember how many houses they own.

I don't know what to do to solve the problem other than vote, vote, vote for those politicians who at least admitt the problem exists.

David K said...

Beautifully written, John. Good job expressing both the hope and the outrage implicit in California's unwillingness to respond to those who deal with neurological, mental and developmental disorders. Their families and friends suffer, too, and hope is, for them, hard to come by. Stories such as this help a lot. Thanks.

John McManamy said...

Hi, Lizabeth. Totally in accord. The movie is obviously going to break new ground in humanizing schizophrenia, which is great. But I'm sure we're in for a "feel good" ending which is not good for the kind of moral outrage needed to put an end to our national disgrace.

But the movie does provide a golden opportunity for us to stoke up that outrage. I'm hoping NAMI and other groups will see this as a window of opportunity, in which case getting involved with NAMI is something positive you can do. Here's hoping ...

John McManamy said...

Hi, David. I'm very grateful for the person who gave me the heads-up on the story. :)

Ctrygirl said...

Dear John,
THANK YOU for posting on this horrid situation that is ongoing in AMERICA!! UNREAL that we have such little compassion from those who are suppose to HELP those in need. I too worry about the reprecussions of the movie, for you are so right that the "winner take all" society that we live in just do NOT seem to "get it" and I personally don't think they ever will unless the illnesses touch their lives personally. However, I too have GREAT hopes that NAMI will see and take action somehow on how these precious people are being treated. I can NOT help but wonder what this precious man thought when he was DUMPED! Oh my that had to really send him reeling or make him feel less than human per is NO better than what some inhumane person would do to an excessive litter of pups, just DUMP them on the side of the road and think TA DAH problem solved. There are so many out there hurting,needing,suffering needlessly when there are programs that could help them. I ask, WHY didn't they take him to a place where he could get HELP if they really cared. I am SOOOO glad to hear that they are being taken to court.
I had no idea there was such a place where so many, THOUSANDS!!! are mentally ill trying their best to just get from day to day. Oh John this breaks my heart. If you know of ANYTHING that those of us here can do, (ie write political leaders, NAMI, whomever or any actions we can take to help) PLEASE let us know in another post. With a broken heart and fury combined....

John McManamy said...

Hey, Ctrygirl. Many thanks for your moving comments. I know you come from a family of veterans, so if you're prepared for even more heartbreak and fury:

A lot of the homeless are veterans. A very very high percentage, particularly Vietnam vets. Basically, these people went through way more than anyone should have to go through, and their minds wouldn't let them forget.

Many suffered PTSD without knowing it, without the necessary psychiatric and social support. They took to self-medicating and wound up on the streets. I need to look up the figures, but my understanding is that more Vietnam vets have lost their lives from AFTER the hostilities ended to the present than during the actual war, itself. Think of these as delayed combat deaths.

Here's the kicker: Iraqi/Afghanistan vets are returning with the same rates of PTSD as the Vietnam vets. It's not always easy to pick up PTSD, and if it's not picked up in an early time frame, these vets don't qualify for treatment.

So here's a whole new generation of kids we send to fight for us - something happens to their brains, they end up homeless - and ten years from now we are crossing to the other side of the street to avoid them.

Please be outraged. Something needs to be done, and we need people with your passion to press this nation into doing the right thing.

Warren said...

Hi John and forum

It is the eve of the 25th of April in Australia, ANZAC day, a natonal holiday where we remember the war's and the people who played a role in them.

A a grandchild of the WW2 generation it is very instilled in our ethos the loss that was attributed to our current life, with little commnt on the event driven illnesses that occured.

Mindfullness of the now dictates that the past has happened and that we can only try to learn from that. The number of veterans exposed to horrific life experiences that go beyound the comprehension ofhe current generations is very scarry. Given the relationship between the experience and mental health stability I fing it very sad that there is no a better support system. These feelings are driven by extraordinary situations that make our now society, but we did not live them.

Compassion, alturism and forgivness for actions that did not followw the basic human care for others has been lacking.

I can only talk from experioence with my late grandfather who faught in Greece, Crete and Papua New Guinea which he NEVER talked about, although my curiosity has reveled to me that he was a warrior, killed and did his job.

This exposure to abnormal life has had a enormas affect on the individual that was never previously understood.

Would I want to be exposed to that - NO WAY!!!

do I empathis with those who did - TO THE BEST OF MY ABILITY!!!

I am attending Dawn Service tommorow to remember the unfair exposure to trauma that these mormal people were exposed to.


Warren said...

Hi all

To follow on from my post.

The understanding behind exposure to certain events and mental health is generally accepted but the support to ensure people can remain function after the experience are not.

How many people have remained contributing members to society while trying to manage trauma and depression from an event driven experience.

To those that have managed all power to you. To live with an abusive, drunkard and angry person who's only fault was to do what he believe as being the right thing to do is not right for all concerned.

Where is the humanity.

My Grandfather was always haunted by the experiences he had, but, he raised a family and generally provided. For me I remember him with awe, as there were many times that the kind loving man laughed with his grand children, and after finding out what he experienced within battle floored me.

There is no way that the current generation of soldier is better equiped to manage certain life experiences. Only now it is being more brought into the open.

My heart to them


John McManamy said...

Hi, Warren. I lived in New Zealand and Australia for 16 years. To readers:

The English used ANZAC troops as cannon fodder during World War I. The casualties were appalling. Drive to any town in NZ or Australia. Go to the WWI memorial in these towns. Simply count the names. It's mind-boggling.

New Zealand and Australia were fighting in World War Two a full two years before the US entered the war, with twice the casualties as US troops.

Small countries, big commitment.

In addition, New Zealand and Australia have sent troops to Korea and Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, and have served as UN peace-keeping forces.

I was always impressed by the quiet way both countries honored those who served. Dawn service. Solemn remembrance.

Your comments bring it all back to me, Warren. Many thanks for the reminder.