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“Federal suit says state provides inadequate mental health care”

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This December 1, 2015 article by Joe Smydo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette talks about a federal lawsuit being filed by the Disability Rights Network against the Pennsylvania Dept. of Human Services citing inadequate mental health care as the reason for the suit.  Warren State Hospital, Torrance State Hospital and Mifflin County Jail are where the 3 people the suit focuses on are located.

“Conference tackles mental health issues: Treatment or incarceration”

storeroom

storeroom (Photo credit: suttonhoo)

 

 

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This April 19, 2013 article found on the Warren Times-Observer website talks about a conference recently held at the Interfaith Chapel on the Warren State Hospital grounds.  Based on the article it seems like the conference was for getting mental health providers and corrections related employees into the same room to discus what’s broken and what can be done to fix it in regards to the situation where corrections facilities are holding more and more inmates with mental health issues. Many questions were raised in the article.

 

While I’m encouraged to see these folks sitting down and talking to each other, I am concerned that there is one group that may have been overlooked.  The group I have in mind is the people who will be effected by any decisions made by the professionals who attended this meeting.  That group being the folks who receive services from these agencies.  I know Beacon Light has a Consumer Advisory board, so I suspect there is a chance that Beacon Light will at some point be including the folks they serve, but what about the other agencies represented, will they too include representative of the people they serve?

 

 

 

Is Warren State next on the chopping block?

I came across an article this morning that mentions  the “pending closure” of WSH being a major issue for Crawford County.  I am digging for other references to this, but haven’t found anything yet to confirm this, but I thought it was worth mentioning here since it was rumors like this that preceded the closure of both Allentown State Hospital and Mayview State Hospital

I have included the excerpt below from the Meadville Tribune dated May 31, 2011

http://meadvilletribune.com/local/x564434592/Weindorf-takes-over-as-Human-Services-boss

May 31, 2011

Weindorf takes over as Human Services boss

By Jane Smith Meadville Tribune

“Another major issue facing Crawford County is the pending closure of Warren State Hospital, where clients with severe mental illness reside for treatment. Crawford County has 10 clients in that hospital. Once the hospital is closed, the county is responsible for finding suitable housing. Weindorf said some can be transferred to another state hospital, but many are expected to return to Crawford County.”

Forensic Unit now officially closed – TimesObserver.com | News, Sports, Jobs, Community Information – The Times Observer

Forensic Unit now officially closed – TimesObserver.com

The link above will take you to an article found in the Saturday, October 30, 2010 edition of the Warren Times-Observer.

It indicates that the closing of the Warren State Hospital Forensic Unit is completed the last client left on Thursday and the remaining unit staff left on Friday.

Deal struck for Forensic Unit workers – TimesObserver.com | News, Sports, Jobs, Community Information – The Times Observer

Deal struck for Forensic Unit workers – TimesObserver.com

The above link will take you to an article found in the Warren Times Observer on October 14, 2010.  It indicates that negotiations have resulted in job promises as they become available for those currently employeed at Warren State Hospital’s Forensic Unit which is slated to close at the end of this month.

 

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A walk down history lane

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Root_(Pennsylvania)

The above link,  is to a page in Wikipedia about a man named Joe Root who spent some time living off the land in Erie, PA on Presque Isle.  By now you may be wondering why I’m including this here since it seems like it wouldn’t apply to the general topic of this blog.  Well, it kind of does apply.  Joe Root, from what little I’ve read about him, apparently was an entertainer, and kids loved his ventrilloqy.  Aside from entertaining children, it seems that Joe Root was a bit of a dreamer and came up with ideas like starting a feather factory among other ideas that others would listen to but seemed to find them o be more amusing then anything.  I don’t know what kind of violence occurred, but some say that Joe Root was actually the victim of it some speculate it was to prevent him from collecting squater’s rights on Presque Isle.  The details of the incident that I’ve found have been more like implied statements then anything, but they do indicate that because of this vaguely described violance, Joe Root was sent to Warren State Hospital in Warren, PA.  He spent the rest of his life there from the sounds of things but was said to have repeatedly asked to return to his home on Presque Isle.

So when did this occurr?  well based on Wikipedia, He lived on Presque Isle in the early 1900’s and was comitted to Warren State Hospital then known as “The State Hospital for the Insane at Warren, PA”  the name was later changed to Warren Stae Hospital sometime around 1920 if memory serves me right.  Anyway, Joe Root was committed there and died in 1912.

I guess my reason for sharingthis, is to give folks an idea of how in many ways there has been some if not a lot of progress in how folks with mental illnesses are treated today compared to then in the early days of Warren State.  at that time people could be sent to a state hospital for just about any reason that anyone else thought made the person being comitted seem to not conform to society and while Joe Root seems like the kind of guy we might refer to as eccentric today, at the time, something occurred and someone didn’t agree with what happened probably claimed he was insane (using terminology for the time period) and under the authority of one person like a doctor, law enforcement or anyone that had any kind of authority he was sent to Warren State where I’m guessing he died since he died in 1912 just 2 years after he arrived at Warren State.  Today it takes a team of people to have someone admitted to a state hospital, and in the current goal is to have the person ready for discharge in roughly 6 months to a year.  Today, Joe Root would have needed to have been evaluated by a physician, and met certain criteria before he could have been admitted to Warren State.   There is a lot more to the process, but there are more steps and criteria that need to be taken and met then there once was.

For folks who are in the mental health system receiving treatment, yes, there are many changes occurring and  yes at this pointstate hospitals still exist, but to be sent to one isn’t as easy as it once was, and length of stay is much shorter on average then it was at the time that Joe Root was comitted.

I will close by saying that yes, treatment is better for folks with mental illnesses then it once was, but at the same time as with anything, I feel there is always room for improvement.

Disclaimer:  While I am currently researching the History of Warren State Hospital, I have many questions left unanswered and Joe Root is just one piece of the puzzle.  I do not intend this blog entry to be a precise or complete history, but rather a summary of things I’ve been reading about and some of my own thoughts based on experiences I have had in my own life.  In short this is an opinion post based on many pieces of information.  The information about Joe Root mostly came from Wikipedia, but some of what I said in regards to what the process of him ending up at Warren state is purely speculation based on my limited knowledge of how the system functioned at that time.  I welcome any information anyone wants to send my way, and to be honest am really kind of intrigued with Joe Root’s story so he is someone I’m looking further into. 

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“Prison board reviews policies”

http://www.theprogressnews.com/default.asp?read=23872

Below is an excerpt I found in the Friday Sept. 10, 2010 issue of “TheProgress, it doesn’t say a lot, but it does indicate possible changes to how inmates are assessed after the impending closing of the Forensic unit at Warren State Hospital.  the full artical can be viewed at the link included at the beginning of this bllog entry.

The board learned that the Regional Forensic Psychiatric Centers at Warren State Hospital and Torrance State Hospital will consolidate. According to Clearfield County District Attorney William A. Shaw Jr., this could mean that a team from the hospital would come to Clearfield County to evaluate inmates rather than having them transported.

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“Forensic Fight”

http://www.timesobserver.com/page/content.detail/id/535142.html?nav=5006

This article found in the Warren Times-Observer on September 6, 2010 indicates that while time seems to be running out, the fight to keep the forensic unit at Warren State open is being waged with tenacity.  While the Union Leader fights to keep the unit open, he is also working to ensure that if their efforts fail in keeping the unit open, as many of the27 forensic security employees will be able to acquire other positio.  It sounds to me like the stance is that he is hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.  Petitions have been available for signing all over the Warren area I can only hope their efforts aren’t in vein.

Union leader in tough spot

By BRIAN FERRY bferry@timesobserver.com

POSTED: September 6, 2010

Article Photos

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Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry
Forensic unit petition
A man signed a petition Friday to keep the Warren State Hospital forensic unit open at the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association (PSCOA) canopy in front of the Sill House in Warren. PSCOA members have collected more than 1,500 signatures and plan to set up the canopy in Sugar Grove and Youngsville during the coming week.

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The president of Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association Local SI Warren is in a tough spot.

On one hand, Ed Rollinger is doing whatever he can to prevent the closure of the Warren State Hospital Forensic Unit and the loss of about 30 family-sustaining jobs held by his fellow union members.

On the other, he is trying to work with the state agency that announced the closure to help find new jobs for those forensic security employees.

“I can’t just say it’s not going to happen,” Rollinger said. “If it did my members would be left out in the cold.”

The Department of Public Welfare announced the closure in early August saying the unit was scheduled to be fully out of service by the end of October. The forensic unit at Torrance State Hospital has been expanded to allow Warren’s patients to be treated there.

Department officials assured employees that they would provide assistance in finding job placement for those losing their jobs.

“I’ve been trying to work on some agreement that will help my members,” Rollinger said.

In late August, he received information from DPW.

Although the department came through with some of the promised help, it was not what he and the other union members had hoped.

“Right now the only definite they’re offering is three positions for my job classification at Torrance,” Rollinger said.

The forensic unit operation at Torrance has been expanded to include Warren’s patients to its existing population of 64.

According to State Rep. Kathy Rapp (R-65th), in the past six months, a total of 28 people have been hired at Torrance in spite of a state hiring freeze.

According to union members, those 28 are all forensic security employees (FSEs) and all were hired before the announcement to close Warren’s unit.

There are 27 FSEs at the Warren State Hospital forensic unit, Rollinger said.

Rollinger said about a third of his union members are willing to move to Westmoreland County for jobs at Torrance.

“I would like to see them take anybody who would like to go,” he said. “I can’t see why they can’t absorb them all. That’s what I’m trying to go for.”

The union members have not been offered placement at the only other state hospital forensic unit in Norristown, Montgomery County, he said.

Other than the three FSE positions offered at Torrance, DPW is offering to hold spaces at Warren State Hospital’s civil operation for the union members.

Those are state jobs and they’re in Warren, but there’s a downside.

“It’d be a drastic pay cut for my members,” Rollinger said. He said members’ pay would go down 20 to 30 percent.

Other positions in state prisons may be available.

“We do have opportunities to place into corrections,” Rollinger said.

DPW can’t force the Department of Corrections to hold openings for the FSEs in Warren.

“They can’t freeze openings for us. It’s still a waiting game,” Rollinger said. “People would be furloughed and then go on unemployment. It’s not a ‘one day you work here, the next day you work there.'”

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“Bottom-Line Decision”

http://www.timesobserver.com/page/content.detail/id/534782.html?showlayout=0

This article appeared in the August 27, 2010 edition of the Warren Times-Observer and gives some more views regarding the closing of the Forensics Unit at Warren State Hospital.

Bottom-Line Decision

Justification to close WSH forensic unit based on potential savings

By BRIAN FERRY bferry@timesobserver.com

POSTED: August 27, 2010
Money is the only justification given in the decision to close the forensic unit at Warren State Hospital.

The state Department of Public Welfare has quoted a savings of approximately $2.3 million per year that will be realized by consolidating the Warren and Torrance state hospital forensic units.

“Due to these tough economic times, the department (of public welfare) has had to make tough decisions on how operations will continue as funding levels fall,” Acting Deputy Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Sherry Snyder wrote in a letter to employees of the Warren forensic unit. “The Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services has determined that by consolidating the clinical services of the Warren RFPC (Regional Forensic Psychiatric Center) and Torrance RFPC the department can continue to provide quality consumer care while reducing the financial burden of operating two forensic centers.”

In a July 29 letter to the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association, Acting Deputy Secretary for Administration Michael Stauffer said the consolidation “will provide the opportunity for financial savings due to efficiencies of scale, decrease in operational costs to maintain the separate unit at Warren RFPC and the consolidation of administrative oversight.”

In the Aug. 2 letter, Snyder said the consolidation is not about the quality of patient care in Warren.

“This closure is in no way a reflection of the quality of consumer care provided at the Warren RFPC,” Snyder wrote. “On the contrary, the hospital’s full accreditation is evidence of the high quality of care and treatment afforded forensic consumers by all of you.”

So, it’s all about $2.3 million per year.

In a response to a Right-to-Know request made by the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association (PSCOA), the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare cited some financial data.

“The savings estimates were based on the fiscal year 2008/2009 actual cost report from Warren State Hospital,” according to information provided to PSCOA. “The calculations for the maintenance/physical operations costs from the RFPC (Regional Forensic Psychiatric Center) unit being closed would save $1,074,214.29 and the staff position savings from the consolidation would be $1,205,627.62.”

That’s nothing to sneeze at, but will the state really realize that savings?

State Rep. Kathy Rapp (R-65th) doesn’t think so. Neither does the local union president representing most of the unit’s employees.

Rapp said the changes will result in a shift of costs. Maintenance of the forensic unit building and the grounds at Warren State Hospital will continue despite the unit being empty, she said. The recently enlarged unit at Torrance State Hospital in Westmoreland County will require more staff and more maintenance.

There are more than 40 employees at the Warren forensic unit.

The $1.2 million in savings from staff consolidation represents a little less than $30,000 in salary and benefits for each position.

“They’re saving this money from the staff positions,” Rapp said. “That’s kind of questionable when they’re hiring more people down at Torrance.”

According to Ed Rollinger, president of PSCOA Local SI Warren, “They’ve hired 28 staff at Torrance in the past six months.” Rapp also quoted that number of new hires at Torrance.

If those 28 new hires were made to accommodate the influx of patients from Warren, they should be counted against anticipated staffing savings.

Taking those 28 from 44 in Warren leaves only 16 positions eliminated. To generate $1.2 million in savings, each of those 16 positions would have to average $75,000 in salary and benefits.

The one-month advance notice of furloughs from the state to the union lists a total of 28 positions that will be lost at Warren’s forensic unit. According to Rollinger, as of Thursday he was not aware of any current forensic security employees at Warren being offered positions at Torrance.

Rollinger said his requests for more detailed financial figures relating to the closure have not been answered.

Even if the state will save $2.3 million, Rapp and Rollinger argue that closing forensic units is a losing proposition.

“This situation is taking place while our corrections facilities are extremely overcrowded and the state is incarcerating 10,531 inmates with a mental health diagnosis,” Rapp said in a letter to Attorney General Tom Corbett. “Add to this situation there are currently 52 people on a waiting list for a forensic bed. This waitlist has caused overcrowding in our county jails.”

Rapp said the 2,130 Pennsylvania inmates incarcerated in out-of-state prisons because of overcrowding are costing the state $48,201,900 each year.

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“Forensic closure at WSH on track”

http://www.timesobserver.com/page/content.detail/id/534494.html?nav=5006 

This article found in the August 19, 2010 edition of the Warren Times Observer indiates efforts are being made to stop the closing of the WSH Forensic unit, but it is looking grim for the unit

Forensic closure at WSH on track

But effort continues on several fronts to derail decision

By BRIAN FERRY bferry@timesobserver.com

POSTED: August 19, 2010

//

The efforts of the board of trustees, the correctional officers union, and a state representative have not swayed state decision-makers from closing the Warren State Hospital Forensic Unit.

As of Wednesday, the schedule for the closing of the unit is unchanged.

“The consolidation of the forensic unit is moving forward as planned and remains on track to be completed by the end of October,” Department of Public Welfare Director of Communications Michael Race said.

In a decision announced to employees on Aug. 2, the unit will close and the patients will be moved to a forensic unit at Torrance State Hospital in Westmoreland County.

There were 25 patients being treated in the Warren unit at the time of the announcement.

Forensic units allow for the treatment of people who are under criminal detention with the goal of stabilizing disorders and returning the patients to the criminal justice system.

The forensic unit at Warren State Hospital is the smallest of three in the state; The 25 patients came from 14 counties.

Torrance, which currently houses 64 patients and has capacity for 75, will be expanded to accommodate the consolidation.

Public hearings are not mandated prior to the closure of the unit, according to Race.

“No public hearings are legally required or scheduled,” he said. “DPW officials have been in routine contact with PSCOA representatives and any concerned elected officials regarding the consolidation plans. We will continue to discuss any emerging issues with them or any other concerned parties as the consolidation moves forward.”

The hospital’s board of trustees has already made known its immediate wishes, calling the decision “heavy-handed.”

“We respectfully request that this decision to close the forensic unit at Warren State Hospital be postponed until a comprehensive analysis can be completed,” the board members wrote in a letter to Gov. Ed Rendell and copied to Acting DPW Secretary Harriet Dichter, Lt. Gov. Joe Scarnati, State Sen. Mary Jo White, State Rep. Kathy Rapp, the Warren County Commissioners, and Hospital CEO Charlotte Uber. “We are disappointed by the lack of transparency and arbitrary tactics used in this closure of the forensic unit at Warren State Hospital.”

The trustees said they should have been involved in the decision. “The role of the advisory board is to provide counsel and input to the hospital management and, by extension, the larger Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services of DPW,” according to the letter. “We would certainly have been willing to participate in discussion and give fair hearing to the DPW management analysis in this matter.”

Rapp (R-65th) needs no prompting from her constituents.

“I’m again embroiled in this battle,” Rapp said Wednesday. “I’m trying to do what I can to support our employees at the forensic unit.”

Those efforts include working with the board of trustees, the PSCOA locally and in Harrisburg, preparing information and sending it to Attorney General Tom Corbett, and working with Dichter.

Much of the argument for the consolidation is that it will save the state $2.3 million per year.

Rapp disputes that.

“This is just shifting costs,” she said. “That building will still be maintained. The grounds will still be maintained.”

In a letter to Dichter was a request for a full accounting of the anticipated savings, Rapp said.

The trustees would also like to see the data. They also object to finances being the only reason used to justify the closure, arguing the quality of care should have been a major factor.

Torrance will have to add staff to handle the influx of patients, and some of that hiring is already underway.

“They’ve already hired 28 new employees at Torrance while we’re in a hiring freeze,” Rapp said. “DPW is full-steam ahead.”

She said those new hires do not include any current Warren State Hospital employees.

The department continues to work with “affected staff at the unit to assist them in obtaining other state employment,” Race said.

Of the 41 employees of the unit, about 30 are represented by Pennsylvania State Correctional Officers Association (PSCOA) Local SI Warren, according to union officials.

Officials with PSCOA have been gathering signatures on petitions and passing out information.

Among the materials passed out by PSCOA is contact information for state legislators.

Rapp said PSCOA is standing its ground. “They are working very hard on their end to reverse this,” she said.

Rapp said she has support among her colleagues, but, since the issue is not a legislative one, it may not help.

“Unfortunately this is an administrative decision,” she said. When Rapp opposed plans to privatize the forensic unit a few years ago, “they claimed that I was overstepping. I reminded them this is the 65th legislative district. These are the constituents that I am representing.”

“I’m trying to do what I can to support our employees at the forensic unit,” she said. “This will be a big loss to Warren County, about $2 million in salaries alone if we lose those employees.”

Others among those she is working for, she said, are some of “Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable citizens – people with disabilities.”

The hospital currently serves 44 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, she said.

“Just 30 years ago there were 30 state hospitals and eight corrections facilities,” she said. “Now it’s just the opposite. There are 30 corrections facilities and eight state hospitals.”

“There is plentiful research to indicate that prisons are overcrowded and the incidence of mental illness on the rise,” according to the trustees’ letter. “In light of this, DPW is closing the only forensic unit in northwest PA and reducing the number of such units from three down to two statewide?!”

 
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