Monday, February 11, 2008

The Greatest Theft

The greatest theft
Ruth Sheehan, Staff Writer, The News and Observer

Susie Deter, director of a clubhouse for the mentally ill in Durham, has learned a lot about thievery over the last several months.
Late one night over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend, robbers tore into the heating and air conditioning units at Threshold, looking for copper wire.
They left the heating unit limping but functional. The air conditioning unit will need to be overhauled or replaced.
Repairing the units will cost $8,000; replacing them: $5,000.
Since this is not the first time Threshold has been robbed, Deter predicts that the bigger bill will come due next year when the insurance company informs the nonprofit: Your coverage has been dropped.
Still, with all the headaches of filing claims, fixing or replacing the units and installing more sophisticated security devices (which insurance will not cover), Deter says the creeps who made off with the wiring are pikers compared to the bureaucrats dismantling her clients'
Deter points to a client who lives close to the clubhouse and has been visiting Threshold nearly every day for more than 10 years.
The client grapples with severe mental illness but, thanks in part to the consistency of contact with friends and workers at Threshold, she has carved out a stable existence.
Now, in a story I've heard repeated time and again, the gatekeeper for mental health money, Value Options, has decided that this woman no longer needs daily service at Threshold.
"Without ever having met her," Deter said. "Without ever having seen what we do here."
Threshold is the second-oldest clubhouse for the mentally ill in the state.
It was started 23 years ago by parents whose children with severe and persistent mental illness had nowhere to go, no community to tap into.
Threshold is the only clubhouse in the Triangle that is open 365 days a year.
But that's not what makes the place so special.
For an hourly fee of $16.10 -- a fraction of the cost of a hospital stay -- Threshold provides group therapy, activities and meals. More than that, it provides a place where people are welcomed and accepted.
Each member has chores to complete, such as serving food or cleaning toilets.
As Threshold's newsletter proclaims each month: "Remember, you are always needed, wanted and expected at the Clubhouse!"
Because the folks at Threshold know this longtime client so well, they know the signs that she has begun to fall into crisis since her services have been cut. The woman is bathing several times a day. She is overly worried about being a burden on the clubhouse.
So even though Deter told the woman she can continue to come every day, whether Value Options will pay or not, the woman refuses.
To Deter, this is like the robbers monkeying with the clubhouse's wiring.
The cut in hours is monkeying with the mind of Deter's client.
Only when the woman needs to be hospitalized, Deter suspects, will her clubhouse hours be restored.
Until then, the woman's only hope is to file an appeal and appear before state mental health officials in person.
"That's something this woman would rather die than do," Deter said.
Deter believes there is a special circle of hell reserved for those who would rob a nonprofit.
Imagine the fate of those who would keep the mentally ill from getting the care they need. or (919) 829-4828

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