There is a mental health crisis affecting Washington County. We have the highest suicide rate in the state. Our county was awarded a $2 million federal grant as part of the Zero Suicide initiative, as we have limited mental health resources available compared to other parts of the state. There is no dispute that our county needs more in the way of mental health care for those battling mental illness and suicide. However, it is important to reflect on the quality of care from the services already in place and ask ourselves how we can do better.
I am writing this after a recent experience at Westerly Hospital. I was in their emergency room with one of my clients who was there for both medical and psychiatric reasons. During the four hours in the emergency room, I noticed that only the psychiatric patients were on stretchers in the hallway. Then six psychiatric patients were put into a room sitting on chairs. There was no privacy and very little personal space. Personal information about each client was said within earshot of me, the patients, and their visitors. As I left the e mergency room, I noticed there were three vacant rooms that were cleaned and the beds were made.
Funding for mental health care is limited at best. There is ignorance and stigma about mental illness and treatment. And what I witnessed at Westerly Hospital is a sad commentary on how people with mental illness are often treated.