[It is Christmas! While we often blindly assume peace and good will reigns everywhere, it does not. Kent A. Hansen, JD in his weekly Word of Grace newsletter beautifully brings into sharp focus an area of healthcare for which most of us are unaware. I quote only part of it for your edification (if you wish to subscribe, instructions follow at the end).]
“Christmas is coming, a wonderful time of hope fueled by memory. It is also the darker season of human expectation when brokenness, limitations and inadequacy loom large in the gap between how it is and how it should be. The news is full of holiday domestic violence, shootings, hostage-taking, child abductions, and suicides in glaring contrast to the warm media depictions of prosperous, happy families gathering in love.
“Instead of shepherds watching in the fields, a difficult vigil is being kept by nurses, physicians, case managers and even the attorney-on-call who happens to be me. There are 20, count 'em, 20 patients in the emergency room for psychiatric evaluations in this holiday night that is anything, but silent.
“At the county hospital across town, the police recently brought in a big man with the superhuman strength of a drug-induced rage. He was strapped down to a gurney. Somehow, he managed to kick and thrash his arms and legs free and stand with the gurney still strapped to his back. He savagely beat a young nurse and scalped her when her hair caught in the side rail of the gurney and he violently jerked her around.
“That hospital now insists that law enforcement remain with the patients they bring in on '5150s,' referring to the number of the statute in the California Health and Welfare Code that authorizes 72-hour custodial holds so that persons deemed to be 'a danger to themselves or others' can be evaluated for possible placement in a psychiatric facility.
“The officers don't want to be tied up with waiting so they bring the patients to our Medical Center's emergency room instead. The problem is that we have no psychiatric license to permit admission of the patients needing treatment and facilities that have such licenses are few and far between.
“Mental health is the most neglected part of our health care system. Mental health patients are stigmatized as unstable, dangerous, unreliable and therefore useless in a society that prizes utility and appearances. Denial is the prevailing public reaction even as fear, shame, insecurity and violence are exacerbated by the pressures of contemporary life.
“There are many contributing factors to poor mental health in our region. The more significant of these include. broken family systems, substandard schools, alcohol and drug addiction, crime, poverty, debt, physical and emotional neglect and abuse, hours of time a day locked up in frustrating freeway commutes, the instant demands of social media, the ravages of relativism on community standards and virtue in the public square, and a loss of faith in God.
“The problems are overwhelming and there is a temptation to give up on solving them. Indeed, many institutions and governments do give up. Instead of treatment and cure which take time and money, the policy emphasis is placed on processes and rights. This means that care providers have as little involvement with the afflicted as possible.
“So the morally defective, emotionally despairing, and desperately pathological are collected for assessment in our level 1 trauma center that is not permitted by law to treat them even if it had the capacity to do so. The real reason, these sad wretches are here, of course, is temporary storage — law enforcement wants them out of their homes and off the streets for even a little while and the jails are overflowing. Our professionals do the best they can, while they can, but these patients are lost without a touch from God. . . .
“All this he endured and when we call on him we can be sure that he knows the temptations and darkness that envelops us and he can give grace and mercy to help us in our time of need (Heb 4:15-16). . . .
“Jesus Christ is never deterred by the mess we've made of things. In fact, the bigger our mess, the more grace he has for us (Rom 5:20). This is good news for those waiting in the emergency room tonight, and for you and me whatever mess we happen to be in, as we wait together for 'the dawn of redeeming grace.' In the meanwhile, may our lives be prayers of action ministering the kindness of the Christ.”
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