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Frank Gray

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Mentally ill left with no place to go


A woman named Donna Hackman called me the other day.

In a way, she was looking for help, but actually she just had a story to tell, a story of utter frustration, the kind of story she felt people needed to know about.

Hackman has a father who has suffered from mental illness for as long as she can remember, and over the years, it has gotten him into trouble and landed him in jail time and time again.

He’s not violent, Hackman says. He can be very pleasant, but he can also be viciously nasty.

He does what she called really stupid things, such as refusing to stop when police try to pull him over and ending up in huge car chases.

It wasn’t until he was 60 that he was actually diagnosed with bipolar and what Hackman says were called recurring disorders. He’s been prescribed medications, and they work well – when he takes them.

Today, she says, her father is 74, still has the bipolar disorder, the recurring disorders and a degree of dementia.

Hackman says she went to court to get guardianship for her father so she could control his finances and do things such as pay his rent, something her father wouldn’t do.

He would actually lead a stable life for significant periods, she says, before spinning out of control, getting evicted and sometimes ending up homeless.

As he ages, the periods of stability get shorter and shorter, Hackman says.

She has tried to get ongoing treatment for her father at various facilities in the area. “They’d set up appointments two months out,” Hackman says. “But how do you get a person who can’t keep track of what day it is to keep an appointment?”

She says she tried to take him to appointments, but when she’d go to pick him up, he wouldn’t be there. When Hackman had to work, she’d call her father and remind him of the appointment, and he’d promise to go, but he never did.

Eventually, she says, treatment centers quit making appointments for him because he wouldn’t show.

Hackman says she can’t take him in to her home. Caring for him is a full-time job. She has to work, and there’s no telling who he might bring home with him.

What she really needs, Hackman says, is a place for her father to stay where he can also receive treatment. She found such a place where he would be given his medication every day, and that went on for weeks, but her father needed a Medicaid waiver in order to stay there.

To get the waiver, though, he needed physical disabilities. He doesn’t have physical disabilities. So he was turned down.

“There’s nothing for the mentally ill in the health care system,” Hackman says.

Without the waiver, Hackman says, her father was placed in independent living in the same facility. But he didn’t take his medications and after a few months was kicked out for being abusive to other residents.

Now he is in a motel, and the process starts over, Hackman says.

“People need to be aware,” she says, “we need facilities for people like this.”

I talked to Mike Meyers, executive director of the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. I started to explain Hackman’s plight.

Meyers said he knew exactly what I was talking about.

He’s heard almost identical stories, he says.

“It happens an awful lot, unfortunately,” Meyers says.

“If someone were severely diabetic, they’d get a waiver,” Meyers says. “An organic disorder in the pancreas makes it. An organic disorder in the brain doesn’t. It doesn’t change the fact that they’re really sick.”

Meanwhile, as long as people aren’t a threat to themselves or to someone else, there’s no way they can be forced into treatment, he says.

Meyers’ only advice for people like Hackman is to try to get a lawyer involved. Getting a waiver, he says, is almost a word game.

For now, Hackman’s father is staying in a motel. He’d been there for a couple of days, and he was behaving.

But there’s always tomorrow.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893 or by email at You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.