Private Psychiatric Care Blossoms / Influx of Mentally Ill on Streets Alters Care Practices

Article excerpt

Over the past few years, the American public has been inundated with stories in the media about the "street people" and the homeless.

Stories abound with graphic pictures of "bag ladies" and others living in America's streets begging for scraps of food and money. Other stories have shown that many of these people are not only homeless, but mentally ill as well, and were made homeless when they were discharged from state-supported hospitals and mental institutions.

This large-scale influx of the mentally ill on to America's streets has caused great changes in the way psychiatric care is administered, both publicly and privately.

Publicly, the number of state-supported beds for the mentally ill is decreasing, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Privately, the number of beds for the mentally ill is increasing, not because these institutions are necessarily in a philanthropic mood, but because there is a need in the marketplace and because the private mental institution is a profitable venture for many.

Bethany General Hospital has added a for-profit, $2 million mental clinic called the Bethany Pavilion, with beds set aside for treatment of adolescents as well as an adult population.

St. Anthony Hospital, Baptist Medical Center and other major health care institutions all have beds set aside to provide care for the mentally ill.

And according to officials with several of those institutions, more and more beds are being set aside for the treatment of the mentally ill.

One hospital that is totally dedicated to the treatment of mental illness is Willow View Hospital in Oklahoma City.

Established in 1936 as a regular hospital, it is now the only non-profit, free standing pyschiatric hosital in Oklahoma.

Willow View's medical director, Dr. Jay T. Shurley, agrees that there has been a tremendous growth in the number of beds dedicated to the treatment of psychiatric illness.

He explains why:

"I would say there's been an explosive growth in the community because general medical and surgical hospitals have experienced a marked reduction in the use of their beds.

"So they have empty beds, which is a money losing situation. So in casting about as to where they might fill these beds, they realize they can fill them with psychiatric patients because the need has been grossly underserved and it's much cheaper to operate a psychiatric bed."

The cost of operating a psychiatric hospital "is mostly in human costs," Shurley added, "and there's a greater margin of profit."

However, profit margins are not the only reason Oklahoma has seen an increase in the number of private psychiatric care units.

In 1977, the Health Policy Center of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., was asked by the Joint Committee on Public and Mental Health of the Oklahoma House of Representatives to conduct a study on mental health services in Oklahoma. …