Tuesday, June 30, 2009


From the News & Observer regarding cuts to services…


Mental hospitals may lose schools
BY LYNN BONNER - Staff writer
Published: Tue, Jun. 30, 2009
RALEIGH -- Schools in the state's three psychiatric hospitals could be eliminated as officials consider making local school districts responsible for educating hospitalized children.

The change could have its biggest impact on children who are hospitalized for long stretches. Instead of taking classes at hospital schools that have their own teachers and schedules, students would rely more on their home districts to help them keep up with class work.

A patient advocacy group is questioning whether a drawback in school services would violate federal law or state code.

Hospitalization trendsMore young patients are admitted to the hospitals for short stays, but some are still hospitalized for weeks. For example:

At Dorothea Dix last year, about 35 percent of the adolescents discharged had been in the hospital a week or less, while about 20 percent had been there more than a month.

In 2003, 22.5 percent of young patients were discharged from Dorothea Dix after stays of a week or less, and about 22 percent were discharged after staying longer than a month.

Systemwide, 67 adolescents were in state hospitals on June 23, and 43 had been there for more than a month.

Children who are admitted to hospitals are expected to keep learning, if they can.

Some hospitals, particularly children's hospitals, set aside space for classrooms to help young patients maintain routines and stay on track with school work.

The change would reflect the realities of modern psychiatric treatment where fewer children spend months in the hospital, said Dwight Pearson, director of the state Department of Health and Human Services' office of education services. "Modern medicine has created some real miracles," he said.

Children admitted to psychiatric hospitals would remain enrolled in their local districts rather than enroll in hospital schools.

The local districts would continue to be responsible for the children's education while they are hospitalized.

"It ensures a continuity of service," said Pearson.

The new practice would be similar to the arrangements schools make for students whose injuries or illnesses force them to stay at home for extended periods.

DHHS has not discussed with local school districts that they may be asked to take on the responsibility for educating hospitalized children, Pearson said, because the plan is preliminary.

He envisions school districts that are miles from the psychiatric hospitals using the Internet to help reach students.

The trimmed education service was included in the suggestions for cuts the department gave legislators.

"It's part of an overall look at possibilities for the budget," said Renee McCoy, DHHS spokeswoman. "At this point, nothing is in stone."

But an e-mail sent this month from the DHHS administrator told hospital directors to advise teachers on the cut lists at some of the psychiatric hospitals' schools that they are likely to lose their jobs. Some teachers would remain at the hospitals to serve as facilitators and tutors.

"I do think that it's almost certain that those positions will be included in the cuts, so I think it is fair to give them some unofficial notice that this is likely to happen so they can look for jobs now when schools are hiring," Laura White, the Raleigh administrator who oversees the hospitals, wrote in a June 12 e-mail to the hospital directors.

The programming coordinator at Central Regional outlined in a memo how education would be rolled into a day where most of patients' time would be spent getting treatment for their illnesses.

Adolescents would attend school two hours a day, and younger children would go to school for 2.5 hours a day.

Vicki Smith, executive director of the patient advocacy group Disability Rights North Carolina, said it is not clear that the new plan would comply with federal special education laws and state codes.

"We have some serious concerns about the legality of doing that," Smith said. Children hospitalized for more than a week "should be provided an education," she said.

lynn.bonner@newsobsever.com or 919-829-4821


Cut care, invite trouble
BY RUTH SHEEHAN - Staff Writer
Published: Mon, Jun. 29, 2009

Reading the list of local and state luminaries police say were threatened with bombings and worse by Raleighite Angelos Vangelos, you knew there had to be some noses out of joint.

The list was long and pretty darn comprehensive. The mayor, most of the city council. Most of the county commission. The guv.

But what about the people left off the hit list?

Vangelos targeted Wake county commissioners Paul Coble and Tony Gurley, court records show. But what about ol' Joe Bryan? Nope.

Vangelos not only threatened the mayor and most of the council, he even formulated evil plans for the city manager and other city staff. But what about Council Member Philip Isley? Nada.

Vangelos not only made threats against Beverly Perdue as governor, but he also made threats against her as lieutenant governor. But what about her successor, Walter Dalton? Nothin'.

Gives new meaning to the old phrase, "ain't worth killin'."

But what really struck me about Vangelos' rantings and ravings is not so much the random individuals who were somehow spared that ire. What struck me is that he missed an entire group. And a pertinent one at that.

Forget the city council. A better target might be the entire state Legislature.

Oh, don't take me literally. I'm not advocating snipers or bomb threats. But it's the Legislature taking the knife to programs crucial to tortured souls like Vangelos.

See, it's easy enough to write off this guy as a screwball who's been communicating threats and harassing people via Ma Bell and the U.S. Postal Service for more than a decade. But Vangelos is more than that.

For one thing, the 46-year-old has been charged with assaults in the past. Perhaps he's not so harmless.

More tellingly, on at least one of the occasions he was charged with communicating threats, the court record includes a notation that Vangelos should continue receiving mental health treatment.

Vangelos is a dramatic reminder of what can happen when people don't receive the treatment they need.

And if you think there are folks running around without appropriate, effective treatment and supervision for mental health issues now, just wait until the Legislature gets done with the budget. Current budget proposals call for cuts of more than $50 million to the state mental health. And remember, those deep cuts come to a mental health system that the National Alliance on Mental Illness most recently rated a D+.

So I hope members of the Legislature think of Vangelos, seriously, when they're slicing and dicing in these difficult economic times. The budget is not just about numbers and bureaucracies.

It's about people.

Some folks, it's true, probably ain't worth killin'.

But every life is worth saving. Including Angelos Vangelos'.

ruth.sheehan@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4828

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