Sunday, December 10, 2000

Mental health aid struggles shared

Parents, experts voice concerns

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Maiorano family

  • Nowhere to turn
  • For Daniel, 'the bottom would drop out'
  • Where to get help for troubled youths
  Has a young member of your family struggled to get psychiatric or substance abuse services?
  What do you think should be done to improve the system?
  Share your ideas by contacting Tim Bonfield at, or fax (513) 768-8340.
        The story of the Maiorano family, which struggled to find care in Cincinnati for one son struggling with mental illness and drug addiction while being overwhelmed with support when another son developed cancer, has touched the hearts of many readers.

        The Enquirer reported Dec. 3 that about three times as many teens and children die each year from suicide and drunken driving crashes as do from childhood cancer. And while many criticize childhood mental health and substance abuse services nationwide, experts say Cincinnati lags behind many cities its size.

        To get help for their son, Daniel, the Maioranos had to send him out of town three times for long-term residential treatment. On the advice of a social worker, they filed charges against their son to get him into programs available only through juvenile court.

        In response, parents have described their own struggles to find help for troubled children. Professionals have voiced problems they see from inside the field. Even some mental health clients have expressed their frustrations.

        Following are excerpts from more than 25 responses the Enquirer has received:

        Bonnie Shuman, Greenhills: In 1986, the Shuman family adopted an Oklahoma boy named Ted when he was 18 months old. Over the years, he has struggled with bipolar disorder, explosive behavior disorder, mild retardation and other problems. Now, Ted is 15 and living at a residential treatment center in Louisville.

        “I've been advocating for years for more residential care for kids like my son and

        I haven't known where to turn. I've felt like a voice crying in the wilderness.

        “Ted is a terrific kid. He loves the Reds. He knows all the team members. He's kind and loving. But when he goes, there's almost nothing you can do to bring him back.

        “He has been in and out of therapeutic foster care, in and out of psychiatric hospitals and to a place in Indianapolis before going to Louisville.

        “An obvious solution is to build more facilities. To me, it's totally unacceptable that services aren't here.”

        “My son was in and out of Children's Hospital's psychiatric unit a lot. We frequently had to wait six to eight hours in the ER, even when my son came in by ambulance under restraints.

        “Another problem we've had ... case workers aren't informed enough about the services that are available. We were our own case workers. We found the place Ted's in now, and the one before that.

        “But we had the time and the energy and the money. For the folks who don't, too bad, their case workers don't know all the resources. There needs to be much more communication between services.”

        Karen Gears Siegfried, director of adult treatment, Mental Health Services East, Madisonville: “No one who works in the public mental health system will be surprised by your article. We have watched the system be eaten up by layer after layer of bureaucracy trying to "manage' costs, leaving less and less funding for actual treatment.

        “We watch families seek help in a complicated network of segregated services -- children here, parents there, severally disabled folks somewhere else. We watch as hospitals reduce stays and limit beds, so that those quickly discharged are not close to being stable and often have no viable discharge plans.

        “We watch families with poor or no health insurance put off treatment until problems are very complicated and costly. Daily we see the debilitating turnover of our staff.

        “No one ever entered mental health to make big money, but job satisfaction kept us afloat. Being part of a profession that helps lessen suffering and promotes psychic healing and growth is an incredible incentive. Now that sense of service is difficult to maintain.

        “Any society which does not care for its children, its elders, or its physically or mentally ill members today will pay a dear price tomorrow.”

        Heidi Fogt, mental health care consumer, Springfield Township: “When my mom gave me (the Nowhere to Turn) article to read I was very surprised. At first glance at the picture I knew (Daniel Maiorano, whose struggles were featured in the story). I met Daniel briefly on my fourth trip to the hospital, and the last time before I was put into foster care.

        “I am an ex-cutter, recovered for a year and two months, which seems like forever. I had been in the hospital three times ... and all this happened in a span of four months.

        “My parents said they wouldn't pick me up from the hospital and I found out later on that our insurance had run out for me and my parents didn't know what else to do.

        “It's a very scary thought that my parents didn't know how to help me and the doctors didn't tell them anything about how to help me. It took me being in foster care for a year, being in two different foster homes, and a lot of counseling that didn't help at all.

        “My foster mother was the real person who helped me turn my life around. I can only imagine how bad off I would be if it wasn't for a strong will and lots of support from many different people.”

        Deanna Maxey, Georgetown: Mrs. Maxey's daughter, now 20, has suffered from bipolar disorder for several years.

        “I had to file unruly charges on her back in 1995. That's what they told me I had to do. It's been pure hell ever since.

        “There were no services for her in Brown County. So they sent her to a place in Ironton, but she wasn't getting the care they paid for.

        “Now she's living on her own, on the streets. I can't get no help for her.

        “Instead of all these school levies, they need to get a tax for mental health. We need a facility in this area. A lot of people don't have the transportation to go to places in Cincinnati.”

        Robert Mecum, executive director, Lighthouse Youth Services: (Lighthouse is a Walnut Hills- based agency that provides runaway shelters, foster care, group homes and other services for children.)

        “A lot of counties are in a lot worse shape than Hamilton County.

        “Ohio runs a county-operated child welfare system. We have a very uneven level of services here in Greater Cincinnati because some counties can't pass a children's services levy to save their souls.

        “To me it's almost immoral that a child living on one side of a county line can be able to get services when another child on the other side of the line cannot.”

        Brenda Tedrick, Batavia: Mrs. Tedrick has a 23-year-old son with bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder. Problems started when he was 12.

        “I had many, many meetings with teachers, principals and counselors. Nobody would listen ... nobody wanted to teach him. He now is so addicted to drugs he can't function at all. He can't help himself and my health is not good. He has fallen through every crack in society.

        “It is heartbreaking to see my son with such pain. I also grieve for our society. If Jay had leukemia, charitable organizations and private support groups would be plentiful. If he had AIDS, there would be extensive research going on.

        “I wonder when mental illness will be treated as an illness without placing the blame on the ill person or the family. I wonder when insurance coverage for mental illness will catch up with physical illness. I wonder when research funding will be available.”

        Sue Miele, Price Hill: “I applaud the Maiorano family for their courage in coming forward with their story. I empathize with their struggle.

        “My husband Tom and I have six children, all adopted, three with mental illnesses. We have come to know more than we ever hoped to learn about the mental health system, the juvenile justice system and social services.

        “As a parent you would do anything, grab any straw, go to any length to ease your child's suffering. Our suffering children are like a bucket with a hole in the bottom. And still we have hope — that some medication will help, that some psychiatrist will have an answer, that your child will not be "written off,' that you will not be condemned as a lousy parent.

        “Please don't let this subject die. There is so much that needs to be done.”


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