Most of you have never heard of the MHERE. However, 3,968 people (and their families) from our community who were in a mental-health crisis during the last three years have. So have countless police officers and EMS personnel, who transported these persons who were suicidal, homicidal, violent and/or gravely disabled (unable to take care of their basic needs) because of mental illness.
MHERE stands for Mental Health Emergency Rooms Extension. This was the place at Earl K. Long Memorial Hospital where people in a psychiatric crisis could be compassionately evaluated by a psychiatrist and could spend a few days, if necessary, to have the crisis resolved or stabilized.
About 70 percent of these people were discharged to an array of outpatient settings. The estimated savings to the state for the hospital days that were not utilized is about $26 million over three years. There is no telling how many lives were saved, crimes not committed or incarcerations avoided by the service of the MHERE.
The MHERE closed its doors on April 11. The local area hospitals were unwilling to come together to continue the support of this vital service in the community. Can anyone guess why?
Today, if you have a mental-health crisis, you will arrive at one of the local private hospitals, where you will be committed involuntarily to a private psychiatric hospital somewhere in the state of Louisiana. Of course, you or your family will have little or no say so in the matter, and you will go whether you need to or not. You will not likely be seen by a psychiatrist, and there will be no negotiation of the matter or crisis resolution. Your wait time in the emergency room to be transported will be at least 12 hours or perhaps as long as a three or four days.
There, you will likely be treated with contempt, or subdued with injectable medications, or restrained on a gurney with “soft” restraints if you protest or act up. Lucky you! Emergency rooms are not places for people who are mentally ill to spend much time, and they are rarely treated with respect like a person with a “real” medical crisis.
Emergency room physicians are not required to do any more than a cursory examination, because the law allows them to punt the case down the road for further evaluation by a psychiatrist in a psychiatric hospital. The stigma of mental illness is alive and well in these places. Sad, but true.
Rest in peace MHERE. It was a job well done.
Robert V. Blanche, M.D.
former psychiatric director, EKL MHERE.