Parents Of Seriously Mentally Ill See Opportunity In Arizona State Hospital Proposal

By  Mariana Dale
Published: Friday, November 17, 2017 - 6:58am
Updated: Friday, November 17, 2017 - 12:58pm

“We have an opportunity— 93 acres and all of these buildings to prioritize those who need this the most," Deborah Geesling told state staff.
(Photo by Mariana Dale - KJZZ)

East of downtown Phoenix on 24th and Van Buren streets some of Arizona’s most seriously mentally ill live and receive treatment.

The 93-acre Arizona State Hospital cares for people who have become a danger to themselves or others and those who have been court-ordered into treatment.

Arizona passed a law last year that allows the Arizona Department of Health Services lease that space to private medical providers. They’re calling it a Center for Psychiatric Excellence.

Advocates for the seriously mentally ill called for a wider array of services and support at a public hearing Thursday.

“In light of the mass violence across our nation that’s been attributed to untreated mental illness, I would beg of you to take this opportunity to provide excellent long care facilities for our state’s most vulnerable seriously mentally ill,” said Georgetta Christensen, whose son was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder when he was 14 years old.

“It took 10 years for my son to be stabilized to the point where we can live with him in peace,” Christensen said.

In that time, he destroyed property and threatened physical violence.

“All the family knew to sleep behind locked doors,” Christensen said.

Her family relied on a slew of agencies, including the Mesa Police Department, local emergency rooms, an urgent psychiatric care facility, inpatient psychiatric hospitals and assisted outpatient treatment to get her son the treatment he needed.

The Arizona Department of Health Services identified 131 beds, office space and vacant land that could be leased to private operators. Suggested uses include a psychiatric emergency room, urgent psychiatric services and residential treatment.

RELATED: Leasing Soon: Space At Arizona's State Hospital

The Arizona State Hospital is on trust land so, by law, any use has to benefit the mentally ill population. For example, money made from future leases goes into a trust fund meant to benefit people with mental illness in Arizona.

“We know that there is a good outcome obtained by individuals who we get to in time and we get them timely treatment. They can recover and move on,” said Deborah Geesling. Her son has schizophrenia and bipolar disorders. She said obtaining treatment took years and outreach to elected officials.

She cited a survey from the nonprofit Treatment Advocacy Center that found in Arizona the odds of a mentally ill person being in jail compared to a hospital was 9.3 to 1.

The Arizona State Hospital is on trust land so, by law, any use has to benefit the mentally ill population. Parents like Georgetta Christensen want to see more services for the people like her son.
(Photo by Mariana Dale - KJZZ)

The hearing also drew medical professionals from the behavioral health field.

“We have really great medications and therapies and supports today,” said psychologist Michael Franczak at the hearing. “That is only going to work if they are in a setting where they take the medication and agree to the therapy.”

He said there is no smooth transition to the community available for those with serious mental illness in the current system. It’s Arizona’s “other canyon.”

Parent Jeff Schulman is living that reality.

He testified his 28-year-old daughter has a dual diagnosis of serious mental illness and drug addiction.

“She is a court ordered to take medications, but she doesn’t believe she is mentally ill, so she doesn’t take medications,” Schulman said. “She chooses to medicate herself with heroin, meth, whatever is available at that particular time.”

He said in the last two months she’s been in and out of the hospital half a dozen times in the last couple months.

“Trying to get a dual-diagnosis person both the care that she needs for her drug addiction and the care she needs mentally is next to impossible in this city,” Schulman said.

Like every parent that spoke Thursday, Schulman has spent years of his life fighting for treatment for his daughter.

“When my daughter does get stabilized, she is the most wonderful, bright, smart person you’ll ever meet,” Schulman said.

The Department of Health Services was mandated to hold the hearing at least 30 days before releasing a request for proposals.

The department is also collecting feedback online through Nov. 20. 

Longtime Franczak said there is rarely a smooth transition for people being treated for serious mental illness, especially for those who may be homeless or battle drug addiction.
(Photo by Mariana Dale - KJZZ)
Jeff Schulman spoke about his 28-year-old daughter who is diagnosed with a serious mental illness and drug addiction. He says the only treatment options cost in the tens of thousands of dollars.
(Photo by Mariana Dale - KJZZ)

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