Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Starving for Help

Brian Corrigan starved to death in the middle of a large city. He also had schizophrenia; his body was discovered in his Cincinnati apartment about one year ago. After an investigation by the Cincinnati Enquirer with the help of Corrigan’s sister Kathleen, more is now known about this preventable tragedy. Brian Corrigan should be alive today. While no one was specifically faulted for his death, those who were around to help faced too many roadblocks because of Ohio’s restrictive commitment laws.

One could say that the same system that spent significant amounts of taxpayer’s dollars to provide Corrigan with caseworker and an emergency crisis team, yet refused to listen to his sister when she asked for him to be admitted into a psychiatric hospital so he could receive his medicine, was the true cause of death.

"Mental health has gone much the other way in terms of protecting their rights and putting such barriers up," Kathleen said. "Maybe this is what this is about at the end of the day. They're so worried about lawsuits and privacy issues than the actual act of assisting and doing what is actually in the best interest of the person they're helping."

Corrigan’s caseworker took him grocery shopping and provided other services. An emergency team looked in after him. While Corrigan reportedly told them he was “fine,” he continued to lose weight and to not eat. The team didn’t think he posed “substantial risk” to himself or others. For almost three weeks prior to his death, Corrigan wouldn’t let this team into his apartment.

The system kept spending money, yet not giving Corrigan what he needed most. Cases like this make it easy to see why schizophrenia costs our nation at least a $193 billion a year. Taxpayer funds were used to buy groceries for a man “the system” let starve to death. An editorial accompanying this economic cost study in the American Journal of Psychiatry writes, “A little more than 5 years ago, Dr. Michael Hogan, chair of the President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, noted that ‘we are spending too much on mental illness in all the wrong places’. This is even more true in 2008 than in 2002.”

Corrigan’s sister living in Canada wanted something done. There is an email trail between her and the caseworker discussing using the courts to get a commitment. The caseworker didn’t think Brian met the Ohio standard for commitment. The law forbade the treatment needed to keep Corrigan alive.

Last year, Ohio balked on passing legislation to give its commitment laws badly needed reform. The starving need for action remains.