Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Our Opinion: Mentally ill should not be housed with senior citizens

It’s difficult to find a more vulnerable population than senior citizens who live in nursing homes.

Old, frail and sometimes in the throes of dementia, nursing home residents need intense care, supervision and protection.

Yet in Arizona and around the U.S., they increasingly are put in harm’s way. Some nursing homes, faced with too many empty beds, are housing violent mentally ill patients just across the hall from the often-infirm elderly.

An Associated Press analysis found that 1,357 mentally ill patients ages 22-64 were housed in Arizona’s nursing homes last year – a 39 percent increase over 2002.

Seniors across the U.S. have been beaten, raped and killed by mentally ill patients, the AP analysis found.

It’s not clear if that’s occurred in Arizona; the state’s Department of Health Services refused AP attempts to discuss the issue. But it may be only a matter of time.

“When they take a mentally ill individual and place them with a frail, incapacitated elderly person, that’s a prescription for harm,” notes Phoenix lawyer Martin Solomon, whose firm handles cases of elderly abuse.

Many cities have a shortage of psychiatric beds. And with healthy seniors living independently longer, many nursing homes have beds to fill.

Those institutions are all too willing to house the mentally ill. And as long as they keep that population under 50 percent, Medicaid will foot the bill.

The situation is unfair for all concerned. Elderly people should be safe in nursing homes, of course. But it’s also unfortunate that mentally ill people are warehoused in an inappropriate venue. Many can lead independent lives if given the support to manage their lives and stay on medications.

Arizona and other states must eliminate the financial incentives for nursing homes to house the mentally ill. The populations must be separated.

Just as Arizona’s prison system segregates juvenile offenders from hard-core convicts, so must the state keep predator and prey apart in nursing homes.

Citizen Online Archive, 2006-2009

This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

In 2010, a power surge fried a server that contained all of videos linked to dozens of stories in this archive. Also, a server that contained all of the databases for dozens of stories was accidentally erased, so all of those links are broken as well. However, all of the text and photos that accompanied some stories have been preserved.

For all of the stories that were archived by the Tucson Citizen newspaper's library in a digital archive between 1993 and 2009, go to Morgue Part 2

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