As service providers for homeless members of Ward 3, we are distressed to hear that $75 million of the D.C. Commission on Mental Health's money will be spent on a new hospital ["New Hospital to Replace St. Elizabeths," Metro, Nov. 22]. We agree that St. Elizabeths is in terrible shape, but building a new hospital now makes no sense.
When Scott Nelson was appointed receiver, his primary goal was to set up a well-ordered community mental health program. He has yet to fulfill this mandate. Without a successful community mental health program supporting it, the building of a new hospital is frivolous. We strongly object to the time, money and energy that will be wasted in the process.
Community Council for the Homeless
At Friendship Place
Friends of St. Elizabeths, an organization advocating quality hospital services and continuity of care, was pleased to learn that the way has been cleared for building a new hospital for the mentally ill on the St. Elizabeths campus.
Private hospitals do not take everyone, and homeless, psychotic men and women usually have not been welcome. Even if patients are admitted to private hospitals, they often end up at St. Elizabeths after the time allowed by insurance companies or managed care runs out.
With the D.C. Mental Health Commission's attempt to cut beds now, however, it is hard for private hospitals to arrange for transfers. Unless people stay in the hospital until they are able to manage their illness, they will have to be readmitted or can end up in jail or a shelter.
While St. Elizabeths now has about 400 adult patients in the civil division, the commission's hospital plans call for only 75 beds for them in the acute hospital. There is no provision for long-term care. Where will patients go after the few weeks in the short-term hospital if they are still sick? This miscalculation of the need for hospital beds has resulted in a major funding shortfall in the FY 2000 budget.
More than 100 years ago, Dorothea Dix fought to provide humane care for the mentally ill on the grounds of Saint Elizabeths. As we look for new ways to use the campus, we should see that people with mental disabilities share in the benefits of development.
The writers are past presidents of Friends of St. Elizabeths.