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Catalogue Blog

DC’s Mental Health

Did you catch Stephen Baron, director of the District’s Department of Mental Health, yesterday morning on the Kojo Nnamdi Show?

JIM ASENDIO: DC’s Mental Health Department has spent 37 years under the cloud of a major lawsuit, resulted from a study that determined more than half of the 3,000 patients being treated at Saint Elizabeths Hospital, the District-run facility for the mentally ill in Southeast, did not belong there. That lawsuit is close to being settled now that Saint Elizabeths had been transformed into a much smaller institution, serving approximately 280 patients. At its height, Saint Elizabeths served more than 3,600 patients. Well, the city now treats approximately 98 percent of the District’s patients in community-based health clinics.

STEPHEN BARON: State hospitals probably our most restricted form of treatment. There’s been a tremendous increase in both the medications, the commitment and our ability to provide the wide range of services individuals need in the community. There are services that are offered now routinely in public mental health systems that were not available back then and came out because of the commitment to move people responsibly into the community.

[...] The agreement that established the department addressed a number of things. One was the need to build a robust community-based system, have a robust psychiatric emergency response system, have a new and improved Saint Elizabeths Hospital, to have inpatient care take place in community hospitals, not in the state hospital, all things we’ve been able to do.

Do you concur with the agreement regarding the most critical needs for the Department now that Saint Elizabeth’s has been both improved and down-sized? And have you experienced this increase in DC’s “commitment and our ability to provide the wide range of services individuals need in the community?” And how can a public community-based model best be implemented in urban areas versus more suburban or rural areas?

On the private side, Catalogue has featured 34 non-profits focused on health, mental health, and aging — often dedicated to keeping individuals in their neighborhoods and homes. Every year, the Women’s Center in Vienna offers individual and family psychotherapy and support groups to 2,600 clients for whom such counseling would otherwise be out of reach. And in Gaithersburg, Child Center and Adult Services, Inc. offers mental health care for low-income children and adults at three clinics, which also provide bilingual therapists.

For residential services, L’Arche Greater Washington operates four homes for low-income residents who have intellectual disabilities, often accompanied by physical disabilities and mental health issues. And speaking to another critical need, CrisisLink handles more than 53,000 calls per year from people contemplating suicide and confronting traumatic loss.

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