Opinion: Privatizing Alaska Psychiatric Institute is a mistake

Opinion: Privatizing Alaska Psychiatric Institute is a mistake

Alaska has a history of selling its psychiatric patients to the lowest bidder.

  • Friday, March 8, 2019 7:00am
  • Opinion

For more than 10 years, I have volunteered as a mental health advocate. I have also been a patient in psychiatric facilities. It would be a mistake to fully privatize Alaska Psychiatric Institute.

Alaska has a 60-year history of turning disabled psychiatric patients over to private facilities with an insufficient state standard of care with disastrous results all in the name of saving money. In the 1960s, the Alaska Psychiatric Institute was open but not running at capacity and the state was still sending the disabled to Oregon. In the 1980s, the slogan was “bring the children home” because Alaska was still sending the disabled out of state because it was the cheapest alternative — not the best for patients, but the cheapest.

[No-bid contract for psychiatric institute raises questions]

In 1984, 35 years ago, the Legislature gave psychiatric patients the right to be free from corporal punishment. Last June there was a report from a whistleblower/safety officer at API that restraints and isolation were improperly used. The Legislature never explained what corporal punishment looked like or who would protect the patients. Psychiatric patients are being mistreated because the Legislature did not put in place a mechanism to produce a proper standard of care.

Approximately 14 years ago, the new API opened its doors. Even the state knew it could not properly run an acute care facility without a treatment mall but the state removed it from the design to save money. The hospital was only designed with a 10-bed forensic unit and some experts believe API should have been designed with at least 20 beds. This is all to save money.

Privatization of API is just another step to save money with no concern of what’s in the best interests of the patients. Alaska has a 60-year history of selling its psychiatric patients to the lowest bidder. Acute care psychiatric patients are being denied a fair opportunity for recovery because patients have never had a right by law to be treated fairly.

The current Legislature should start by revising the psychiatric patient grievance law AS47.30.847 with more detail, cover more disabled trust beneficiaries and add more requirements for basic rights.

• Faith Myers has a degree in early childhood development and has spent more than five months in Alaska Psychiatric Institute as a patient. She works as a mental health advocate working to change API’s policies and inadequate laws that all too often are designed to traumatize psychiatric patients.

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