Mental-health advocates make plea for placements Those once institutionalized now contribute, they say.

January 30, 1992|By C. Fraser Smith

ANNAPOLIS -- Between 1984 and August of 1990, Wini DeHaven's life was a series of panic attacks played out against a backdrop of severe depression.

"Nothing mattered," she said. "Things just started falling apart."

When she left the Finan Center in Cumberland after several periods of treatment, she found a "Turning Point," symbolically and literally. Now she's worried that state budget cuts will deprive others of the comfort she found.

The Turning Point community center in Hagerstown provides residential care for about 60 mental patients and outpatient services for 60 more.

In the continuing effort to put mental patients in less restrictive living arrangements -- returning them to the community -- places like Turning Point and Freedom Landing in St. Mary's County are the community.

Mrs. DeHaven, a 67-year-old mother of four, says Turning Point gave her a second family.

Officials and patients at these centers fear the state's budget knife could hit them -- particularly if what they do is not adequately understood.

So today they have scheduled a "March for Opportunity." As many as 1,000 Marylanders in community-based programs -- patients and staff alike -- planned to make a special presentation to Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein.

They've collected copies of Maryland tax returns from men and women who were formerly institutionalized but are now like Mrs. DeHaven, working in the programs where they live -- or at K mart, Giant and other businesses.

Officials of the Maryland Association of Psychiatric Support Services says community placements make a lot of sense, especially for states with serious financial problems. A community placement costs about a third of what the state pays for institutional care -- $37,000 versus $98,000.

"There are people in institutions who are ready to be discharged but there aren't community spaces for them -- yet it costs twice to keep someone in an institution as in the community," Mrs. DeHaven said. "We want the public to know that people with mental illness are not burdens. They are contributing members of society. They don't have to be housed in inhumane institutions."

Frequently, programs such as Turning Point are the safety net for men and women such as Mrs. DeHaven who are sailing along reasonably well when mental problems occur. Mrs. DeHaven was an office manager for an equipment company when her depression struck.

The community mental health movement is committed to the conviction that "individuals with mental illness can conduct their lives with dignity," says John R. Bennett, executive director of the Southern Maryland Community Network in Prince Frederick.

"All people need is a little extra support. And they need it when they need it, not between 9 and 5 but at 3 in the morning."

Mr. Bennett says his group tries to get people linked with "natural support" systems. Sometimes these include the sort of counseling and advocacy that Wini DeHaven is employed to do at Turning Point.

"You don't have to call a psychiatrist. If you can have a close friend to help get through a crisis whatever it may be, you can succeed," he says.

Jim Schmidt, president of MAPSS says the rally scheduled for today is designed to "show that people with severe disabilities can and do become productive members of society with the right kind of community support. They benefit and so does the taxpayer."

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