Photo by Ian Schneider Unsplash

ACMI Action Alert: Arizona’s 2021 Budget, Please Include These Items for SMI

SB1142 a modest (up to $1 million) tax incentive bill for employers who hire one of Arizona’s 40,000 individuals diagnosed as Seriously Mentally Ill. It serves 2 purposes: offset initial training costs and gives purpose and meaning to individuals ready to take the next step towards recovery and independence.

SB1786 a prisoner transition program designed specifically for individuals with the most serious mental diseases. Transition programs work for those with a serious mental illness and who are most at risk for harming themselves or others without effective transitioning (cost $1.3 million).

On their own, these bills do not solve every gap in Arizona’s continuum of care for individuals with chronic mental illness. However, they are vital parts of that continuum and important steps forward. People with serious mental illness can find support transitioning out of prison and others can find meaning and purpose through employment and inclusion in the community.

SB1030 — The PSRB Bill. With agreed upon floor amendments, this bill will not have a budget impact. It reforms the Psychiatric Security Review Board and will have a significant impact on Public Safety. You can read more about this important work in a recent Op-Ed published in the Arizona Capitol Times.

SB1716.  The Arizona State Hospital (ASH) Bill.  The Bill does not have an impact on the budget this year as well.  We are confident that this is the beginning of reforming the bottleneck that leaves so many in Maricopa County languishing in inappropriate hospital settings or worse. This legislation also seeks to bring more accountability to ASH for the services it provides and improve patient safety.

But we need YOUR help NOW!

Please take a moment to email or call your State Representatives and Senator and ask them to support the two budget items! Every email or phone call matters and makes a huge difference!! Thank You!

Here is a link to find your AZ Representative’s and Senator’s email. You can also quickly email all House and Senate members through this site:

The Arizona Peoples Lobbyist – Your Voice – Your Choice (azpeopleslobbyist.com)

UPDATE:

SCR1018 —  The Concurrent Resolution. This expresses support for community-based efforts to provide clinically appropriate care to individuals with chronic serious mental illness; Passed unanimously in both the Senate and House!  Please take some time to read this Resolution and thank our legislators on social media and through emails.

This Resolution acknowledges the needs of individuals and families living with chronic serious mental illness in Arizona and our legislators unanimously agreed that we must work toward providing a full continuum of care, including access to the Arizona State Hospital, for this group of people.

SENATOR BARTO — We continue to be grateful for Senator Nancy Barto’s tireless work on addressing these gaps in the continuum of care on behalf of the Chronically Mentally Ill in Arizona down at our State Capitol every week! Please express your appreciation when you have a moment as well to other legislators who support these important bills.

Please join us to learn about the “Mapping the Costs of Serious Mental Illness” which was a two-year study commissioned by ACMI to determine various costs associated with serious mental illness. There will be a presentation followed by a Q & A session.

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Photo by Issac Geesling

Weekend Legislative Roundup.

The following bills that seek to enhance the well-being of individuals and families with chronic mental illness in Arizona continue to move forward. Here’s where they stand and how you can help:

SB1059 – Clarifies current law requires that a person with mental illness and substance use diagnosis must be evaluated and not summarily dismissed due to the presence of drugs. The intention is to make treatment consistent.

Status: Passed in the Senate. Passed out of House Committees, currently waiting to go to House floor for a vote. Email all House members.

Action: Call and/or email your AZ Representatives. Email the Governor’s office and ask for his support.

SB1142 – A tax incentive bill for employers who hire people with serious mental illness. Sets the credit amount at $2 for each hour worked by an SMI employee during the calendar year, not to exceed $20,000, tax-paying business owner. Government agencies excluded.

Status: Passed in the Senate. To be heard in the House Appropriations Committee this Tuesday, 3/30, for a vote.

Action: Call and/or email the House Appropriations Committee members (emails below) and ask them to support.  Call and/or email your AZ Representatives. Email the Governor’s office and ask for his support.

SB1716 – Currently, only 55 patients from Maricopa County can be at the Arizona State Hospital (ASH) — even when there are empty beds. ASH will no longer limit the number of patients who can be admitted based on the county where the patient lives. Admission should be based on clinical needs.

Reforms the existing ASH Governing Body (Governing Body) to operate without conflicts of interest: Most members will NO LONGER be employees of the Department of Health Services, which oversees ASH. Requires that the Chair of the Independent Oversight Committee (IOC) be invited to Board meetings and provided quarterly reports about human rights violations with patients. Improves transparency — requires Governing Body file annual reports with the Legislature that describe the treatment provides and what is working.

Patient safety improvement: ASH has an outmoded video surveillance system that puts patient safety at risk. We need a better surveillance system.  The bill requires ASH to maintain a surveillance system with video and audio and appropriates $500,000 to do so. ASH administration has requested a new system last year and is currently in a Request for Proposal.

Status: Passed in the Senate. To be heard in the House Appropriations Committee this Tuesday, 3/30, for a vote.

Action: Call and/or email the House Appropriations Committee members (emails below) and ask them to support. Call and/or email your AZ Representatives. Email the Governor’s office and ask for his support.

SB1029 & SB1030 – Psychiatric security review board (PSRB) bill, SB1029, requires more information and reports for the Board to ensure that it treats patients fairly and protects the public. The Board now operates without enough information on patients when it makes decisions. The bill has a retired judge become the Chair, so the Board operates by fair rules.

Because the PSRB Board opposes any changes and claims that it operates perfectly, SB1030 ends the PSRB and sends the functions that the PSRB performs to the Superior Court in each county. This saves the state money and will ensure that patients get a fair hearing in front of a judge who follows the law.

Status: Passed in the Senate. Passed in the House Committees, waiting to go to the House floor for a vote.

Action: Call and/or email your AZ Representatives. Email the Governor’s office and ask for his support.

Here is a link to find AZ Representative’s email:

The Arizona Peoples Lobbyist – Your Voice – Your Choice (azpeopleslobbyist.com)

SB1786 – Prisoner Mental Health Transition Bill.

Status: Passed in the Senate. Passed in the House Committees, waiting to go to the House floor for a vote.

Action: Call and/or email your AZ Representatives. Email the Governor’s office and ask for his support.

SCR1018 – A Concurrent Resolution expresses support for community-based efforts to provide clinically appropriate care to individuals with chronic serious mental illness.

Status: Passed in the Senate. Passed in the House Committees, waiting to go to the House floor for a vote.

Action: Call and/or email your AZ Representatives. Email the Governor’s office and ask for his support.

Here is a link to find AZ Representative’s email:

The Arizona Peoples Lobbyist – Your Voice – Your Choice (azpeopleslobbyist.com)

ACMI would like to thank Senator Nancy Barto, the sponsor of these bills, for her tireless and heroic work on behalf of individuals and families living with chronic mental illness in Arizona! When you have an opportunity, please thank her as well.

We realize that everyone’s life is full; if you are unable to call or email but still want to help the chronically mentally ill, you can partner with us financially. ACMI is a group of dedicated volunteers; no one receives a salary. Your gift will go directly toward improving the well-being of people living with chronic mental illness.

Please contact your legislators by this Monday morning.

Here is a link to find their email:

The Arizona Peoples Lobbyist – Your Voice – Your Choice (azpeopleslobbyist.com)

Or call the Governor’s office at 1-602-542-4331 or email engage@az.gov

House Appropriations Committee members:

César Chávez                     cchavez@azleg.gov

Regina E. Cobb                 rcobb@azleg.gov

Charlene R. Fernandez     cfernandez@azleg.gov

Randall Friese                    rfriese@azleg.gov

Jake Hoffman                    jhffman@azleg.gov

Steve Kaiser                       skaiser@azleg.gov

John Kavanagh                  jkavanagh@azleg.gov

Aaron Lieberman             alieberman@azleg.gov

Quang H. Nguyen             qnguyen@azleg.gov

Becky A. Nutt                     bnutt@azleg.gov

Joanne Osborne               josborne@azleg.gov

Judy Schwiebert               jschwiebert@azleg.gov

Michelle Udall                   mudall@azleg.gov

 

Your partnership in helping the chronically mentally ill and their families in our state is so appreciated, thank you!

Thank you,

 ACMI Board

Thank you for attending our online webinars; if you missed it, you could find the webinar and slides on our website. You will need to create a free account to view the webinars and downloads.

Who Are We Treating (And Not Treating) And Why?

By Dr. Michael Franczak of Copa Healthcare on Population Health trends in Maricopa County. He brings decades of experience into the conversation.

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Arizona State Hospital

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Association of the Chronically Mentally Ill is focused on the sickest group within the SMI population. This group is non-compliant with treatment and often afflicted with anosognosia or the lack of ability to perceive the realities of one’s own condition. There are a number of systemic issues within our public systems that impact this target group. One such issue is the 55 bed limit at the Arizona State Hospital, which was created to incentivize the state to create community-based programs. Long past the usefulness of that policy, Josh Mozell’s November 30th, 2020 article in the Capitol Times help to explain some of the fallout of this policy, and the reasons the 55-bed limit should be eliminated.

   Solving the problems of our broken mental health system often seems so overwhelming that work does not begin. However, there are narrow solutions with broad implications that can be implemented. One such solution is ending Arizona’s long-standing bed limitation placed upon our state hospital.

   It may surprise many to learn that Arizona still has an operational mental asylum. Opened in 1887, it is now known as the Arizona State Hospital. The purpose of the State Hospital is and has always been to provide care for the most mentally ill in our community. For many in that group, months, if not years, of long-term programming is necessary for real recovery. That being the case, the State Hospital becomes the only place in Arizona where they have a chance for meaningful improvement.

   However, the hospital is nearly inaccessible for Maricopa County’s residents due to an arbitrary 55-bed limitation. To provide perspective, health policy experts estimate that a community needs between 40 and 60 beds per 100,000 to meet the demand for state hospital beds. In Maricopa County, however, for those who are civilly committed, we have one bed per 100,000.

   Why? In 1981, a path-breaking class-action lawsuit, Arnold v Sarn, was filed on behalf of Maricopa County’s mentally ill. The litigation lasted over 30 years, finally settling in 2014. During that time, the case revolutionized Arizona’s mental health system. But in 1995, the parties entered into a plan to resolve the litigation. In that stipulation, the parties agreed there would be a cap of 55-beds at the Arizona State Hospital for civilly committed patients from Maricopa County. Due to this limitation, the only pathway to gaining admission is to fail repeatedly, in spectacular fashion, and do it for years.

   The failure looks like this: Because this group of chronically mentally ill does not receive the long-term treatment needed, they transition from one crisis to the next, experiencing more serious decompensation. This results in a constant recycling through the various public systems at an enormous cost to the taxpayers. Year by year the person is increasingly overcome by the disease. There are persistent police and fire interactions, multiple visits to emergency rooms, long medical hospital stays, arrests for petty crimes, and, unfortunately too often for serious crimes. Then there is the involvement of the judicial system, homeless shelters, and the penal system. Rinse and repeat – the cycle continues for years. For this group of people, the system is not just broken, but inhumane.

   The bed limitation also has many downstream effects. For instance, those who need access to Arizona State Hospital do not disappear simply because there is not an available bed. Instead, they consume scarce mental health resources, which otherwise could be provided to others in need. The most serious manifestation is in our civil commitment system. To be hospitalized through civil commitment, a patient receives a bed at Valleywise Health, the one hospital system licensed to carry out the process in Maricopa County. The average length of stay during the process is 22 days, and, during those 22 days, the patient receives very good psychiatric care. But, we have just 343 beds in Maricopa County, which is far less than what is needed to serve the population. Due to that bed shortage, our system is already limited in its ability to treat those who need help.

  The Arizona State Hospital 55-bed limit pours gasoline on a fire. To keep the patient and the public safe, Valleywise is often forced to keep the patient for months until the patient stabilizes, without the infrastructure for true long-term treatment. Therefore, despite maximizing the stabilization possible at a short-term hospital, it is not enough. The patient is often back at Valleywise within weeks after release. This routine can continue for years until the patient finally fails enough for State Hospital consideration.

   Commonly, the amount of failing will total 1,000 days or more at Valleywise – in addition to visits to the ER, jail, crisis centers, etc. Therefore, on just one patient who would be most appropriately treated at Arizona State Hospital, 45 patients could receive a 22-day hospital stay at Valleywise. Consequently, the bed shortage is made worse, individuals do not receive care, and scarce state resources are exhausted. This extends the system to the point of breaking, which cannot be sustained.

  Our system is broken in many ways. But again, there are many narrow fixes with broad positive implications which start the process of improvement. This is one of those narrow fixes. The 55-bed cap is a monumental failure – it should be eliminated.

Josh Mozell is a lawyer with Frazer, Ryan, Goldberg & Arnold, L.L.P.

Josh Mozell

ACMI President

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Photo by Louis Reed on Unsplash

    I was pleasantly surprised to read this article stating the FDA approval for a new drug trial for schizophrenia. Research into the treatment of schizophrenia is long overdue, as it can be a devastating disease process.

    Schizophrenia is a complicated chronic disease affecting approximately 3.5 million people in the United States, and its annual healthcare costs exceed $155 billion. People living with schizophrenia often experience a reduced quality of life (QOL) and are more likely to be homeless, unemployed, or living in poverty than the general population. Life expectancy for patients with schizophrenia is 15 to 20 years below the average. It is complicated by numerous comorbidities, such as weight gain, increased cardiovascular risk, and mood and cognition changes. Treatment nonadherence can increase the risk of relapse, rehospitalization, and self-harm, leading to a reduced QOL and increased economic burden.

    Schizophrenia is a complex chronic illness with multiple comorbidities and high mortality rates. The development of Long-Acting Injectables and generic medication options has significantly improved patient adherence and reduced care costs in patients with schizophrenia. Despite these advances, schizophrenia has a high economic burden for patients and society. Providers caring for patients with schizophrenia are charged with a complicated task of ensuring individualized care while managing numerous adverse effects that may occur with recommended therapy (Wander, 2020).

Wander, C. (2020).  Schizophrenia: Opportunities to Improve Outcomes and Reduce Economic Burden Through Managed Carehttps://www.ajmc.com/view/schizophrenia-opportunities-to-improve-outcomes-and-reduce-economic-burden-through-managed-care

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FDA Advisory Board In Favor of ALKS 3831 for Schizophrenia

October 9, 2020

Kenny Walter

Relevant Topics

The schizophrenia drug currently has a PDUFA date set for November 15.

    A US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) advisory committee has given a recommendation for the ultimate approval of a combination of olanzapine and samidorphan (ALKS 3831) in schizophrenia patients.

    During the joint meeting of the Psychopharmacologic Drugs Advisory Committee and the Drug Safety and Risk Management Advisory Committee, the group voted 16-1 to approve the treatment, developed by Alkermes.

    ALKS 3831 is an investigational, novel atypical antipsychotic earmarked for once-daily oral application for the 2 psychiatric disorders composed of samidorphan, a novel, new molecular entity, co-formulated with olanzapine, an established antipsychotic agent in a single bilayer tablet.

    Recently, researchers presented data from the ENLIGHTEN-2 trial, a six-month study evaluating the weight gain profile of ALKS 3831 compared to olanzapine in 561 patients with stable schizophrenia.

    “The favorable outcome of today’s joint advisory committee meeting represents an important milestone for the patients, clinicians and families who may benefit from new medicines for the treatment of schizophrenia and bipolar I disorder,” Craig Hopkinson, MD, chief medical officer and executive vice president of R&D at Alkermes, said in a statement. The personal testimonies shared during today’s open public hearing reinforced the need for treatment approaches that consider patients’ overall mental and physical health. The ALKS 3831 development program is part of our ongoing commitment to develop new therapeutic options for adults living with serious mental illness.”

    There is currently a Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA) target action date of Nov. 15.

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Courtesy of Healing Minds NOLA September 16th, 2020.

 

     Hello all, on Friday, September 18th, 2020 I watched a presentation by Healing Minds NOLA on the IMD exclusion with Tim Murphy and Teresa Pasquini, moderated by Janey Hays and Eric Smith. This segment focused on the IMD exclusion;  a part of the original 1965 Medicaid law. I encourage each of you to watch this presentation.

    The Institutions for Mental Disease (IMD) exclusion is an outdated, discriminatory federal rule that creates significant barriers to treatment for adults with severe mental illness. Under this rule, Medicaid restricts payments to states for non-geriatric adults (the exclusion applies to individuals aged 21 through 64) from receiving psychiatric care in a treatment facility with more than 16 beds. This limits the ability of states to provide an adequate number of treatment beds for psychiatric illnesses, especially those individuals with severe mental illness.

    Tim Murphy, Ph.D. a psychologist, and former Pennsylvania State Senator and U. S. Congressman, was the primary author of “HELPING FAMILIES IN MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS ACT 2015 HR 2646” (“HFMHCA”).  The HFMHCA requires the Assistant Secretary of Mental Health to focus on improving the most important metrics associated with mental illness and particularly severe mental illness, including rates of suicide and attempts, emergency psychiatric hospitalizations, emergency room boarding, arrests, incarcerations, victimization, and homelessness. The bill dramatically adjusts the threshold to be used in determining the efficacy of programs. It establishes a coordinating committee to advise the Secretary that includes significant representation from criminal justice, a needed addition of an important stakeholder to the national conversation.
Read more at: https://mentalillnesspolicy.org/federalmentalillnesslegislation/hr2646/hr2646narrative.html

   Representative Tim Murphy worked with many families on the HFMHCA legislation.  Unfortunately, the final version of the legislation HFMHCA included measures to repeal the IMD exclusion, but these provisions never made it into the final law. Also left on the cutting room floor was a more precise and transparent definition of “grave disability”.  These are important items for consideration going forward.

 

This webinar is about the IMD exclusion, but it goes much further explaining the history of mental illness, severe mental illness, and many of our behavioral health system’s shortcomings. This video is a straightforward exposition of how our behavioral health system fails people with serious mental illness. I urge everybody to watch it. In addition, Representative Tim Murphy makes a very impassioned plea for advocacy.

 

For this and several more informative webinars, I urge you to visit Janet Hays, Director (Healing Minds NOLA) & Eric Smith (Mental Health Advocate and Graduate Student). They are co-hosting an 8-part series on Implementing a Full Continuum of Coordinated Psychiatric Treatment and Care.

 

   Learn about the IMD exclusion; which is Medicaid Institutions for Mental Disease (IMD) exclusion is an outdated, discriminatory federal rule that creates significant barriers to treatment for adults with severe mental illness. Under this rule, Medicaid payments to states are prohibited for non-geriatric adults receiving psychiatric care in a treatment facility with more than 16 beds.

By Dr. Charles Goldstein

What Is the IMD Exclusion?

   The IMD exclusion is a long-standing policy under Medicaid that prohibits the federal government from providing federal Medicaid funds to states for services rendered to certain Medicaid-eligible individuals who are patients in IMDs (§1905(a)(30)(B) of the Social Security Act [SSA]). When a Medicaid-eligible individual is a patient in an IMD, he or she cannot receive Medicaid coverage for services provided inside or outside the IMD. Due to the exceptions explained in the “Legislative History” section, the IMD exclusion applies to individuals aged 21 through 64. Determination of whether a facility is an IMD depends on whether its overall character is that of a facility established and maintained primarily to care for and treat individuals with mental diseases. Examples include a facility that is licensed or accredited as a psychiatric facility or one in which mental disease is the current reason for institutionalization for more than 50% of the patients. For the definition of IMDs, the term mental disease includes diseases listed as mental disorders in the International Classification of Diseases, with a few exceptions (e.g., mental retardation). (See Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services [CMS], State Medicaid Manual, Part 4, §4390.) Under this definition, substance use disorders (SUDs) are included as mental diseases. If the substance abuse treatment follows a psychiatric model and is performed by medical personnel, it is considered the medical treatment of mental disease.

   However, even with the IMD exclusion, states can receive federal Medicaid funding for inpatient mental health services for individuals aged 21 through 64 outside of an IMD. States can provide Medicaid coverage for services rendered in facilities that do not meet the definition of an IMD, such as facilities with 16 or fewer beds and facilities that are not primarily engaged in providing care to individuals with mental diseases. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/IF10222.pdf

 

 

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Photograph by Laurie Goldstein on streets of San Diego August 23rd, 2020

It seems to be tragic that individuals suffering from the symptoms of serious mental illness must try and fail oral medication therapies before qualifying for long-acting injectables. Besides being much more effective and efficient in medicine delivery, adherence increases significantly. Physicians are well aware that people do not take medications as directed. Lack of compliance in taking medicines as prescribed holds for physical health and mental health treatments. A person suffering from bronchitis may stop taking their antibiotics after five days of a 10-day course once they are feeling better. So, it is not surprising that many people struggle with adherence to daily or twice daily oral medications.

The issue of non-adherence has dire consequences if the condition involves the brain and psychosis. Repeated psychotic events can result in a change in the baseline. According to McKnight (2017) “Researchers now stage schizophrenia. Just like cancer, the more advanced the stage, the worse the outcome,” said Dr. Nasrallah, the Sydney W. Souers Endowed Chair and professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at Saint Louis University, told his audience. “The additional damaging effects of the second episode is what leads to clinical deterioration and can start the process of treatment resistance. But if no psychotic episodes are allowed to recur after the first episode, many patients can return to their baseline functioning, such as school or work.”

As data mount confirming the neurodegenerative effects of psychotic episodes in schizophrenia, one expert urges psychiatrists to think of psychosis as a “brain attack” which, like heart attacks, must be prevented from recurring. McKnight (2017)

According to McKnight (2017) “Schizophrenia doesn’t have to be progressive neurodegenerative unless patients relapse again and again, but that happens all the time because we give our patients pills they don’t take as prescribed. There are many reasons for poor adherence,” Henry A. Nasrallah, MD, said at the meeting held by Global Academy for Medical Education.

 By Laurie Goldstein 

ACMI

 

See more surprising schizophrenia statistics, including:

  • Rise in cost related to relapse
  • Number of hospital beds available for patients
  • Connection between adherence and relapse

https://www.medscape.com/infosites/285165.1/isarticle-1?src=0_nl_sm_0&uac=371324FZ

McKnight, W. (2017, July). First-episode psychosis is a ‘brain attack,’ and LAIs can prevent recurrence, expert says. Clinical Psychiatry News2017(1), 1.

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Photo by Michael Jin & Photo by Camilo Jimenez on Unsplash

Recently, when we were still permitted to congregate socially, I was at a Friday night service in my synagogue when a young woman in the back row emitted a frightening scream, fell, and began convulsing. During her seizure, she hurt herself by falling and hitting her head (danger to self) and broke a chair nearby when she fell on it (property damage). Of course, paramedics were called who attended to her and eventually transported her to a hospital, whereupon I lost contact with this particular young woman and her continued treatment. At no point were the police involved with this manifestation of symptoms of an otherwise presumably well-controlled person with epilepsy. Being an emergency physician myself, I can only tell you that my experience with people with seizure disorders being brought to the emergency room is that they are never subsequently taken to jail.  The options are either hospitalization or, more frequently, discharged home on appropriate medications with appropriate follow up.

 

In another hypothetical scenario, a “brittle diabetic,” usually well-controlled on his insulin, passes out while driving and knocks over a Postal box when he runs into it with his car (a federal crime!).  Police and paramedics show up; the patient is taken to an emergency room where it is ascertained that he indeed has diabetes and had become hypoglycemic. The patient is either admitted to the hospital or sent home on appropriate medications with appropriate follow-up.

 

In neither of these cases detailed above, were the patients assumed to be criminals.  People exhibiting symptoms from a chronic disease are treated appropriately for their symptoms. Their underlying illness and hospitalization, if needed, are not a problem; there are plenty of inpatient beds for them.

 

Let’s contrast this with what might have happened if this was a person with serious mental illness attending the same Sabbath service and became symptomatic, started flailing around, and did some property damage as this woman did. Police and/or paramedics would have been called. The patient may or may not have been taken to an emergency room and may or may not have gone to jail because society draws a fine line (not so fine) between apparent “medical” conditions and “psychiatric” conditions. Unfortunately, in a behavioral health crisis, when people become symptomatic because of their underlying disease, the behaviors related to their disease can suddenly be considered a crime. Also, if it was adjudged that this patient needed further treatment on an inpatient basis, they would have found this to be nearly impossible as there is an extremely limited number of inpatient psychiatric beds in the state of Arizona.

 

Currently, experts recommend approximately one psychiatric inpatient bed for every 250,000 people. In Maricopa County alone, there are about 4 1/2 million people; this equates to an inpatient psychiatric capacity that should exist of around 1,800 inpatient beds. At present, in Maricopa County, there are just 55 beds available in the public system for long-term psychiatric treatment. The inadequate number of limited long-term inpatient psychiatric beds is a figure so egregiously deficient that the reader might well be shocked that this is the truth; shamefully, it is.

 

We need to correct this appalling lack of inpatient psychiatric therapy currently available for the Seriously Mentally Ill.

Charles Goldstein, MD

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Photo courtesy of Isaac Geesling Photography 2018

With DJ Jaffe’s passing on August 23, 2020, individuals living with serious mental illness (and their loved ones) lost a highly effective advocate.  Some of us at ACMI, notably Deborah Geesling, lost a friend as well.  So, what do we do next?   How do we build on DJ’s work?

 

DJ knew first-hand what life is like for those living with serious mental illness and their families.   He took up advocacy to make those lives easier, safer, better. And his work instructed and inspired a generation of mental health advocates.   DJ’s messages — always delivered in clear, simple English — are notable for the absence of policy lingo and the gloss of politically correct phrases.  He spoke authentically, unassumingly, and he spoke truth.  With unparalleled, laser-like precision, DJ exposed shortcomings, and failures within the current “behavioral health” industry, a trendy nomenclature that DJ would remind us is a misnomer for what the seriously mentally ill need.  DJ was clever, quiet, studious, relentless.  And, of course, pony-tailed!   He never shied away from a powerful adversary.  No Goliath was too big for DJ.  And so, he left big footprints for those of us engaged in advocacy for the seriously mentally ill.  Perhaps DJ’s greatest attribute was his unparalleled ability to identify and “call out” practical policy failures that created and sustain our behemoth public mental health system.  And while DJ is now gone, we remain blessed by his writings and speeches — his practical, informed, insightful words of wisdom.

 

During DJ’s visit to Phoenix a few years back, he spoke at a church in the East Valley and at an ACMI salon.  The salon was held on a chilly evening beneath a spectacular Arizona sky.   Chuck and Laurie Goldstein’s patio, overlooking the Paradise Valley Desert and facing the spectacular mountains east of the Valley, is both beautiful and inspiring.  Add fireplaces, thoughtfully placed heaters, and blankets, and about 50 of us had a perfect setting for conversation and reflection.  Before DJ began his remarks, we chatted privately; I thanked him for his work, which was so needed.  His typically cogent response: “Well sadly it’s needed, but it really shouldn’t be.” Those words stay with me and remind me of the value of DJ’s concrete focus.

Photo courtesy of Isaac Geesling Photography 2018

Before meeting DJ, I had read the speech that he delivered to the 2012 NAMI New York State convention.  I keep it on my computer “desktop”.  My favorite part is this:

I am not a mental health advocate.   

Like most of you, I am a mental illness advocate.  I think we need less mental health spending and more mental illness spending.  It is the most seriously ill not the worried-well, who disproportionately become homeless, commit crime, become violent, get arrested incarcerated or hospitalized. 360,000 are behind bars and 200,000 homeless because we are now focused on improving mental health, rather than treating serious mental illness.

DJ Jaffe

NAMI/NYS convention 2012

As a tribute to DJ Jaffe, each week for the next year, ACMI’s website will feature a quote from DJ Jaffe. We are calling this, simply, “52 Weeks of Truth Telling From DJ Jaffe”.  By the anniversary of this remarkable’ s man’s passing, we’ll have quite a collection of words to live by .. a path of footprints, so to speak, to guide our advocacy and to honor this wonderful man.  RIP, DJ JAFFE.

Holly R. Gieszl, JD

Founding Member, Board of Directors, the Association for the Chronically Mentally Ill.

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