Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Librarians as mental health care providers?

Nationwide, more than 200,000 people living on the streets have severe mental illnesses. And, at any given time, there are more people with untreated severe psychiatric illnesses living on America’s streets than are receiving care in hospitals. Since these people aren’t receiving treatment, the burden of care falls on groups other than the mental health community. As Chip Ward explains in an op-ed in the LA Times, librarians are one of those de facto care groups.

So where are we to turn for help? Social workers are too few, under funded, overworked and overwhelmed. If a homeless guy is inside the library, then the view is, "Hey, mission accomplished."

Local hospitals also are uncertain allies. They have little room for the indigent mentally ill and often can't get reimbursed for treating them. So they deal with the crisis at hand, fork over some pills and send them on their away.

The cost of this mad system is staggering. Cities that have tracked chronically homeless people estimate that a typical transient can cost taxpayers $20,000 to $150,000 a year. You could not design a more expensive, wasteful or ineffective way of providing healthcare to individuals who live on the street than by having librarians dispense it through paramedics and emergency rooms.

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