I got up this morning, made my coffee, massaged my old dog’s hips and got the newspaper. On the front page was a story about a team of nurses who had been specially trained to provide immediate medical care to rape victims and collect evidence. It’s a great program and desperately needed. Often the victims are taken to a special exam facility near the hospital so the victims don’t have to wait hours in an emergency room.
The special exam facility opened in 2011. It is lovely and now with specially trained nurses, victims can be assured of getting compassionate care in a comfortable, private setting. There is only one problem: the facility is located in a fairly affluent area west of the city. So, how are the victims’ loved ones supposed to get to the exam facility if they don’t have cars? How are the victims – who been given a ride to the facility by police or paramedics supposed to get home?
It’s a helluva long bus ride to get out there.
Part of my job as a newspaper reporter is to analyze crime data and I know that there are very few sexual assaults in the community near the exam facility. Most rapes occur in urban areas miles away. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to build a special exam facility near a hospital that is closer to the communities where rapes occur?
I asked this question at a meeting of a women’s group that a friend had invited me to. The meeting fell silent and the women looked at each other, surprised. They hadn’t thought of that.
What does any of this have to do with mental illness?
Well, in the aftermath of the Newtown shooting it looks like lawmakers have finally decided to free up some money to beef up and build more mental health facilities. Amen. But before we start spending and building, let’s take a really good look at those we need to help and their caregivers and loved ones. We cannot assume that everyone has a car and can drive themselves to a mental health facility.
Transportation is a really big issue for people with mental illnesses. For many, their mental illnesses are so debilitating that they cannot work or have lost their jobs and cars. We can build the best mental health facilities in the world but if people with mental illnesses and their families/caregivers and loved ones cannot get there – what’s the point?
We need to work with public transportation agencies to make sure people can get there. We need to make sure people know – and make it easy to know – which bus routes will take them to the facility. We need to make sure they have the money to get to and from mental health facilities. What good is it to offer free or discounted medications if we people can’t get there?
We need to ask ourselves, what are the hours of service and how often do buses stop at community mental health centers that offer drop-in respite, recreational and vocational programs? We need to make sure the bus shelters are protected from the elements. We need to speak with clients about their needs. Perhaps most important, we should get input from the workers and volunteers on the front lines. How would they improve services. What needs and waste do they see?
It took the horrific deaths of 26 children and teachers to convince lawmakers we need to spend more money on programs and services for people with mental illnesses. Let’s use common sense. Let’s squeeze the most out of single every penny allocated for mental health care.