Need for more mental health resources discussed at Wiley fundraiser | Every day

WINCHESTER — Winchester Rescue Mission Executive Director Brandan Thomas spoke about the need for more federal and state resources to fight mental illness at a fundraising event for the 29th Del District. Bill Wiley, R-Winchester, Thursday night at the West Oaks Farm Market in Frederick County.

Thomas said he works daily with men and women struggling with mental illness. He also said he grew up in a family with a bipolar and paranoid schizophrenic father.

“As a child, I remember being told regularly to be careful because the government was watching us through our television,” he said, referring to his father’s paranoia. “I remember having to be careful when we were at red lights because the cameras they had set up above the red lights were actually them watching us. And when I was 16, I don’t talk about that. not much, but when I was 16 my dad had a break that made him try to kill me.

Thomas said he was not at the event to support Wiley or any other candidate, but to raise awareness and advocate for an issue he is passionate about.

Representative Ben Cline, R-Lexington, was among several Republican candidates present.

Thomas said that because his father was a veteran, he was able to go to a Veterans Administration hospital that treats mentally ill patients. But he noted that there are millions of Americans who do not receive such care.

“I’ll tell you this, in our community we’ve seen the devastating effects of untreated mental illness,” Thomas said.

He pointed to the “devastating situation” involving 19-year-old David Austin Rowe, who had a history of mental illness before he was charged on August 28 with the murder of his grandmother in Frederick County.

About a week before Dianna Lynne Swaner, 63, was killed, Rowe was staying at the Winchester Rescue Mission homeless shelter on North Cameron Street but had to be evicted for allegedly threatening to kill staff members of the non-profit organization. He was placed under an eight-hour emergency custody order at Winchester Medical Center.

According to Thomas, Rowe was fine when he took his medication, but became violent and erratic when he didn’t. During his eight-hour stay at Winchester Medical Center in August, Rowe was given medication and calmed down, so authorities had no reason to detain him further.

Thomas used this as an example of why more resources are needed to help people with mental illness. He said there needed to be more hospital beds available for patients with mental illness, longer hospital stays and better access to medication.

“I don’t blame Austin for what he did,” Thomas said. “I blame the system that should have intervened in this young man’s life to prevent this from happening. It could have been avoided. »

Thomas has also criticized the “housing first” model for addressing homelessness, saying it does not address the mental health issues that affect many homeless people. Thomas was keen to draw a distinction between those struggling with serious mental illness and the broader population struggling with more common mental health issues.

He said people need to be hospitalized until they are stable and that mental illness cannot be treated the same way you treat a broken arm: “We’ll put a cast on and we’ll send you to the door.”

“It doesn’t work,” Thomas said of this approach. “It takes time to stabilize on the meds.”

He also criticized Medicaid’s IMD [institutions for mental disease] exclusion. Currently, the law prohibits states from using Medicaid to pay for care provided in mental health facilities, such as psychiatric hospitals or other residential treatment facilities with more than 16 beds.

“This is, in my view, an outdated and discriminatory ruling or rule that prohibits Medicaid from paying for care received in mental health facilities. … I think it is discriminatory because it treats brain diseases differently than other diseases that cause significant suffering,” Thomas said.

Susan Shick, Wiley’s legislative aide, said mental health is “a topic that touches everyone in our community, as well as families and friends in some way, shape or form. We are grateful for the representatives we have at the federal, state and local levels who make the issue of mental health a priority.

Wiley said mental health issues had been “exacerbated” during the COVID-19 pandemic and he was working on drafting legislation to be introduced later this year in the General Assembly to provide more resources to local mental health facilities. He also hopes to relieve police and law enforcement from staying with mentally ill patients in hospitals, believing that is a job for mental health experts.

Earlier this year, Wiley proposed a $5 million amendment to the state’s two-year budget that adds beds to Winchester Medical Center so police have a place to bring people with a mental crisis. Half of what he requested was approved in the state budget in June.

The $2.5 million will go to the Northwestern Crisis Intervention Team Assessment Center (CITAC) at Winchester Medical Center, enabling it to offer services 23 hours a day, seven days a week. It was previously open five days a week from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

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