RESEARCH WEEKLY: Two Moms on a Mission for Housing that Heals
By Elizabeth Hancq
Beds are more than just a place to sleep or a unit of psychiatric service capacity. Beds provide respite and should be a safe place to sleep and recharge at the end of every day.
Today, however, beds and housing for people with severe mental illness are in extreme short supply. The United States has one of the lowest numbers
of psychiatric treatment beds per population than any other industrialized nation. The consequences of a lack of beds are profound. There are an estimated 170,000 individuals
with severe mental illness who are homeless on any given night. Meanwhile more than one in five
individuals who are incarcerated have a severe mental illness.
Teresa Pasquini and Lauren Rettagliata describe themselves as “two moms who have trauma tattoos on our hearts from years of watching our sons suffer because of a serious mental illness.” Powerful advocates for increased access to treatment for people with severe mental illness, Pasquini and Rettagliata recently published a report
of their own ambitious research analysis of housing options for people with serious mental illness.
Pasquini and Rettagliata began a year-long journey in January 2019 examining and analyzing the continuum of housing and treatment for people with serious mental illness throughout California. They evaluated 22 separate facilities based on the Institute of Medicine’s aims that a health care system must meet to deliver quality care, including safety, effectiveness, efficiency, timeliness, patient-centered and equity. In addition to conducting site visits of the facilities, Pasquini and Rettagliata interviewed care providers and patients. The facilities they examined covered a wide array of levels of support, including a rehabilitation center and a peer respite house.
Their analysis found that all the facilities are better than living on the streets for someone suffering from a serious mental illness. However, the facilities were not always available to those who needed them. Most of the facilities they evaluated would not accept patients with severe mental illness who had a difficult history, which “causes the phenomenon that we moms call ‘cherry-picking,’ leaving the hardest-to-treat people relegated to the streets and shelters,” Pasquini and Rettagliata write.
Importantly, their examination did find quality programs for people living with serious mental illness. Not surprisingly, they found that when a local government invests in building a full continuum of psychiatric care, people with serious mental illness are much better off and live more optimal, healthy and fulfilling lives.
Pasquini and Rettagliata are examples of the enormous impact advocates can have in improving the lives of people with serious mental illness and their loved ones. Below is an excerpt from their paper:
“We are not analysts, clinicians, or administrators. We do not know all the rules, regulations and fiscal/risk analyses that policymakers must navigate. But, we are two moms who do know what it is like to beg for help, hope, and housing for our adult sons living with SMI. We do know what it like to be forced to drop private insurance in order to save our son’s life. We do know what it is like to call 911 in a mental health crisis. We do know that we have been forced to make our sons homeless in order for them to receive the medically necessary care needed for their stability, safety, and sobriety. We do know the pain of blame and shame. We do know the fatigue of fighting and the fear of dying and leaving our sons without a forever home. This is why we cannot wait any longer.”