Nowhere to Land

Crisis care for the mentally ill crumbles under the weight of not enough money, too much beauracracy

The facilities are good. Owner-founder Don Johnson, who has branches in eight Texas cities, says proudly: "We don't put our people into any facility I wouldn't spend the night in." That might be dismissed as so much self-promotion, except for the fact that his operation is accredited by the Joint Commission of Hospital Organizations, the highest level of accreditation. The kind of accreditation standards NPC is looking to avoid.

But this is transitional housing, probably 90 days tops. Then Tim is back out in the minefield of personal care homes.

Dale Ramey is desperate to see that change. Her crusade now is to draw attention to the lack of places for people like her son Tim. She wants a long-term residential option for the mentally ill in Harris County. She's even got a small group of people together to talk about this.

But as Johnson says, Texas is not so good at health care spending, ranking 49th among the states. "We're real good at building prisons, which handle people when they hit their lowest points, instead of empowering people" with mental health services, says Johnson.

Over the years Texas has drained money away from out-of-favor state institutions and then from community-based mental health centers, Johnson says. With no place to go, he says, these patients are often forced into hospital emergency rooms.

"They become what we call frequent flyers," Johnson says. "Flying in and out of the hospitals."

Frequent flyers with no place to land.

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