Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Mentally ill, elderly ending up at same nursing homes

PHOENIX – The number of sometimes violent mentally ill patients being housed in nursing homes next to frail senior citizens in Arizona increased by 39 percent between 2002 and last year, according to statistics prepared for The Associated Press.

In 2002, there were 979 mentally ill patients ages 22 to 64 housed in the state’s nursing homes. That figure was 1,357 last year – a 39 percent increase, according to numbers obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and prepared exclusively for the AP by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Arizona’s trend of growth in the number of mentally ill nursing home residents mirrors a national trend and ranks 34th among the 50 states. The nation overall saw a 41 percent increase; Utah, Nevada, and Missouri were the states with the highest percentage growth, according to the figures.

The AP review found numerous instances of seniors across the country being assaulted, raped and even killed by younger, stronger residents with schizophrenia, depression or bipolar disorder.

Among the forces behind the trend are the closing of state mental institutions, a shortage of hospital psychiatric beds, and more room in nursing homes because today’s elderly are healthier than the generation before them and more likely to stay in their homes.

The Arizona Department of Health Services, which oversees the state’s nursing homes, declined repeated requests to discuss the issue.

“The problem is, when they mix populations, when they take a mentally ill individual and place them with a frail, incapacitated elderly person, that’s a prescription for harm,” said Martin Solomon, a principal at the law firm of Solomon & Relihan in Phoenix.

The law firm handles elderly abuse cases, but Solomon could not recall an Arizona case in which a senior was assaulted by a younger, mentally ill patient.

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