Letter: Mental health laws inhumane

The idea that the City of New Orleans supports building a component to add 600 more beds to the newly constructed jail to house the mentally ill is inhumane.

Changes in the mental health laws allowing more sick patients to be shifted away from the mental health department into the Department of Corrections are a patient-to-prison pipeline that benefits only private corporations.

The mentally ill need to be in hospitals where they are loved and cared for and released into supportive communities where they can continue to receive outpatient services.

A long-term psychiatric inpatient facility for the uninsured is a perfect adaptive reuse for the Rev. Avery C. Alexander Charity Hospital Building on Tulane Avenue and — unlike a civic center — would cost the city nothing.

The building could be divided into towers: the first for a psychiatric clinic that would provide a patient base for the second — i.e., organizations that lease private space for purposes of mental health, biomedical and bioscience research. The third portion could be a one-stop shop that houses community offices.

The plan to use Charity as City Hall is a very expensive option given that our city is apparently always broke. For cash flow, it is contingent on Civil District Courthouse money, but the judges have stated emphatically that going into Charity Hospital is not an option for them.

According to a $300 million capital budget request to the City Planning Commission by Property Management, of that $300 million, the city has $13 million from the state, some undisclosed amount from FEMA that may or may not include Hazard Mitigation Grant Funds, and the rest will come from some state handout — (at least the city hopes) — and revenue bond money that the city will have to issue at a later date.

As one commissioner said at the City Planning Commission’s Planning and Special Projects Committee meeting Aug. 30: The Civic Center is “an opening salvo with a huge flying asterix.”

In this state, patients with mental illness who have insurance find long-term care in private clinics. The uninsured go to jail. This is discriminatory. As a city and state we should uphold the legacy of our revered civil-rights leaders to create equity and justice for all and make best use of assets like Charity Hospital to provide residents with critical needs.

Janet Hays

community organizer

New Orleans