National Alliance on Mental Illness
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For Immediate Release, February 2, 2000
Arlington, VA The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) today praised the Charlotte Observer of Charlotte, North Carolina, for exposing an appalling pattern of neglect, abuse, and unreported deaths in North Carolina mental health facilities, which has set off a firestorm of reaction among state lawmakers and advocates.
"The state’s near-total breakdown of its mental health system reflects a deeply entrenched attitude of accepted discrimination toward its most vulnerable citizens," said NAMI’s Executive Director Laurie Flynn, in today’s Observer. "We call on the state’s leadership to stem this shocking tide of death."
In a five-part investigative series that ran last week, Observer staff writer Debbie Cenziper reported that, since 1994, at least 35 people with mental or developmental disabilities have died under questionable circumstances while under the care of public and private mental health facilities in the state. Deaths were attributed to suicide, murder, neglect, scalding, and falls, and most went unnoticed by the agencies authorized with investigating such deaths.
NAMI has distributed the investigative series to all of its 50 state organizations, federal agencies, and key members of Congress, and hopes to encourage media in other states to pursue similar investigations. "NAMI intends to use this alarming report to push for reforms both within the state and throughout the country to ensure that individuals with mental illnesses don’t lose their lives in the very places designed to help them," said Flynn.
Today’s Observer describes new laws and tougher standards that North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt and state legislators will seek. "We are encouraged by their response to the report," said Flynn, "but NAMI advocates will need to keep lawmakers’ feet to the fire to make sure a system of accountability is put into place."
In praising the Observer, NAMI noted that the series is just one of several investigative media reports over the last year that have exposed systemic failures to provide adequate treatments and services to individuals with severe and persistent mental illnesses. The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Hartford Courant, and The Orlando Sentinel have revealed a pervasive pattern of neglect by state mental health systems.
"We believe these media reports underscore the critical need to replace the current mental health system," said NAMI’s Flynn, "with a model mental illness recovery system that is based on programs and services that have been proven to be critical to recovery."
Editor’s Note: The Charlotte Observer five-part series ran January 23 – 27, 2000 and can be found on-line at www.charlotte.com/special/mentalhealth. Today’s follow-up story with lawmaker reactions can be found at www.charlotte.com/special/mentalhealth/0202mental.htm