The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, The Anchorage Daily News, the Juneau Empire News, and the Ketchikan Daily News are the major newspapers in Alaska. And all have printed tragic stories of individuals that have sought psychiatric care and were either turned away or given insufficient care and then went on to die by suicide or commit a crime.
Individuals in psychiatric crisis seeking help and being diverted from the Alaska Psychiatric Institute 571 miles to the Bartlett Regional Psychiatric Unit in Juneau, or being left in a psychiatric emergency room or jail, or being denied service altogether, should have been a canary in a coal mine moment for every individual providing mental health care.
There is no right of timely appeal for individuals denied service at a psychiatric crisis unit. Individuals denied service are simply pushed out the door of psychiatric emergency rooms without having rights explained to them and there is no independent advocate at the hospitals to provide help. An individual seeking treatment and being denied should have the right to remain until their appeal is examined.
When a psychiatric patient in a hospital asks to speak with someone to help them with their complaint, they are often told to speak to any staff member, sometimes even the person on staff the patient is trying to complain about. And at times given the phone number to an answering machine.
Like some other states, every major psychiatric emergency room or psychiatric hospital in Alaska should be required by state regulations to have an independent patient advocate available to patients during the hours of hospital operations. No state has found success in protecting psychiatric patients from harm when there was no independent assistance given to patients to file a complaint.
• Faith J. Myers is the author of “Going Crazy in Alaska: A History of Alaska’s Treatment of Psychiatric Patients.” She is a mental health advocate.