I fully believe that Somerset should have been shut down. As a PRSC in that facility my job was nearly impossible. It was very unorganized and suffered from a severe lack of communication between co-workers, various departments, and from administration down. Even when I started, the training I received was invalid by the end of the first month. Almost every day there was a new policy change without explanation. Add to this that the state was visiting regularly and constantly putting everyone on edge. I can say that, when it came down to it, the resident’s health and safety always came first. They always received any treatment we could provide. I blame everything else on politics and decisions made by people who weren’t there. That makes things hard real quick.
In the beginning state visits went very well and we received all kinds of praise, but something changed. All the sudden the state started visiting and citing us for things we didn’t even know we were supposed to be doing. How can you say a facility isn’t providing enough treatment and referrals to programs, while cutting the budget for treatment and day programs? Who was I supposed to refer a resident to if all the day programs in the city were cutting their hours and the number of residents admitted to their programs? What tools does the state think are appropriate when dealing with residents who are actively abusing substances? I had a “piss cup” and that was it. I knew all kinds of residents with substance abuse problems but I didn’t have any resources to help them. Sure, refer them to MISA and require them to go. Well, if they don’t want to go then they won’t. I couldn’t drag them. I couldn’t bribe them. I could counsel them and help them see the benefits of the MISA program, if I had time to sit. If I put them on restriction, ok great, leads me to my next point. Psychotic residents mixing with residents looking for their next fix…at least it was contained within the facility. It was all very frustrating. I have to give credit where it’s due, though. Some residents really made an effort to sober up. Most of them really understood and complied with what we were trying to do for them, and it helped.
My problem with Somerset closing is how and why they are doing it. The neighborhood complained that the residents were bringing everything down and people didn’t feel safe. I live in Uptown. If I had a problem with a resident while in the community then it was directed specifically toward me for something that happened within the facility. Most of the time, my run-ins with Somerset residents involved them working in the little food stores and helping the local businesses stock their shelves and what not. Others were just trying to go about their business like any other person in the city. The most complaints I ever received involving my residents were for panhandling and it was all just bitching. I’ve asked and been asked for cigarettes and change. You say no and you move on. I’m more afraid of the gangs in Uptown and the random drug deals going on. Seriously, almost every day I walked to work, at 7:45am, I would literally walk in between several drug deals on Argyle. I’ve clocked out of Somerset, crossed the street, and had to grab a resident and force them inside Quick-Stop because some kids were chasing each other and throwing glass bottles in the middle of the street. Local blogs informed me when I got home that those same kids shot somebody right down the street. How many out-right, in the middle of the street, middle of the day gang shootings were there last summer? You can find the answer by watching them on Youtube. I was happy to be in Somerset, safe. A Somerset resident did not murder Ms. Walker. She was killed by a member of the community. Residents did not grow weed and make crack in their rooms. They bought it from the community.
Somerset residents had a stigma attached to them that they could not escape from. It’s obvious that most members of the community are scared of the mentally ill. The infamous Alderwoman wants to get reelected and she’s not doing anything else. Why not take part in something easy, that she really has no control over, and take some credit for “making it better?” What she and everyone else who sit around and bitch do not seem to realize, nothing that is currently being done is going to make anything better. These residents are going to be lacking treatment everywhere you ship them. Those who’ve got a record will still have a record when they go to their new placement. They don’t just disappear because Somerset did. The neighborhood violence will continue. Somerset will probably become the next public urinal (Wilson/Broadway).
Somerset was a huge facility, governed by the state. Because of its size it was the easiest target. It should be considered the largest, most obvious example of what happens when politics govern treatment of the mentally ill. If Somerset needed to be closed, then so does every other psychiatric nursing facility everywhere.
Also, I feel like I do not understand something. Why does the Alderwoman think she has control of what happens to the building next? Why does the neighborhood think the same? No one came to my door and asked me what I thought? Isn’t that up to the person who owns it? How does all this work, really?
There is no next step though. There’s no plan. Actually providing the means for quality treatment of the mentally ill seems to be too much to ask. So, here’s to the next set of policies and propaganda that will serve to set up the next horrible failure. To those who actually cared and worked their asses into the ground, got hit and abused, cried to their families, were too tired for a social life, but loved their job anyway…all we can do is try again so that eventually someone in control sees the effort and does what needs to be done.
Ryan, former case-manager