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.
Hes 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 wasnt until he was 60 that he was actually diagnosed with bipolar and what Hackman says were called recurring disorders. Hes 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 wouldnt 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. Theyd set up appointments two months out, Hackman says. But how do you get a person who cant keep track of what day it is to keep an appointment?
She says she tried to take him to appointments, but when shed go to pick him up, he wouldnt be there. When Hackman had to work, shed call her father and remind him of the appointment, and hed promise to go, but he never did.
Eventually, she says, treatment centers quit making appointments for him because he wouldnt show.
Hackman says she cant take him in to her home. Caring for him is a full-time job. She has to work, and theres 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 doesnt have physical disabilities. So he was turned down.
Theres 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 didnt 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 Hackmans plight.
Meyers said he knew exactly what I was talking about.
Hes heard almost identical stories, he says.
It happens an awful lot, unfortunately, Meyers says.
If someone were severely diabetic, theyd get a waiver, Meyers says. An organic disorder in the pancreas makes it. An organic disorder in the brain doesnt. It doesnt change the fact that theyre really sick.
Meanwhile, as long as people arent a threat to themselves or to someone else, theres 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, Hackmans father is staying in a motel. Hed been there for a couple of days, and he was behaving.
But theres always tomorrow.