CPEP: The Uncovered News


What is the “news”?  What should the newspaper be reporting?

            The news is anything that is previously unknown.  The news should be reported based on (a) how many people it affects, and (b) whether anything can be done about it.  News space usually should be prorated on those two criteria.

            When people say they don’t want to read “bad” news all the time, what they mean is they don’t want to read about bad things when they are passive witnesses and cannot do anything about it, for example, “Bus Crash Kills 17 People”—in Bolivia.  That doesn’t affect me and there’s nothing I can do about it, therefore, what’s the point in expending newspaper space telling me about it?  There are so many more relevant things that could be printed in that space.

Conversely, Haiti is a situation that should be reported because it has affected so many people.  Also, people all over the world can send money through established agencies and can contribute labor to alleviate the suffering.

            The proper function of a newspaper is to inform people so they have the option of taking action.  My credo is that all people share the right and the responsibility to make the decisions that affect their lives together.  The newspaper should inform all people about all people.

            The Post-Standard does not report the social systemic problems regarding the majority of the people.  “All people” are not being covered.  Just in Onondaga County, the U.S. Census estimates there are 75,000 people who are not healthy; 65,000 who are not young; and 53,000 who are not financially stable.

            Check this morning’s Post-Standard.  How many column inches have been devoted to reporting the news about people who are disabled, elderly or poor?

            CPEP—the Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program run by St. Joseph’s Hospital—serves about 7,000 patients a year.  There are no published figures about its budget, but St. Joe’s budget is $402 million.  You can bet that CPEP is costing several of those millions.  Information about CPEP is not forthcoming.

            Why not?

            When I called CPEP and asked how many beds they have, I was told they couldn’t give out that information.

            Why not?

            Why don’t you give them a call yourself at (315) 448-6555 and see what you can find out?

            Meanwhile, I’ll take a break from corruption in Onondaga County government to cover another story that the Post-Standard isn’t reporting.

 Puttin’ in the Fix

             Dr. Ghaly would see his patients in the hospital in the morning; in the afternoon he would see his patients in the office, and then, a couple nights a week, he would go to work in CPEP.  The days’ after, when he would see me, he often would be frustrated and distressed:  CPEP had more patients than it could take care of.

            It is practically impossible to get psychiatrist’s to cover CPEP; it’s not desirable duty.  Therefore, there is only one psychiatrist on the service at a time.  Patients come in by choice or are brought in by coercive police action and must be seen by a psychiatrist before they can leave.  The psychiatrist can treat and discharge, or admit to “the back.”

            The back of CPEP consists of a nursing station, a drug room, a couple showers and bathrooms, and a day room that has a couple tables, some chairs and a television.  It also has eight patient “rooms” too small to accommodate anything more than a single bed and a night stand.

            Patients are not treated in the back.  They only are held there until they can be transferred to a regular inpatient psychiatric unit.  The patients are medicated but receive no other kind of therapy, support or intervention.  And they are not supposed to remain in CPEP for more than three days.

            The problem is that there is nowhere for the CPEP staff to transfer patients to.  There aren’t enough beds available locally on inpatient psychiatry.  Syracuse has psychiatric units in the Veterans Administration Medical Center, SUNY Upstate Medical Center, Community General Hospital, and Hutchings Psychiatric Center.

Hutchings is the state hospital and there have been continual efforts to reduce its patient population or shut it down.  It was built in 1972 and has a dozen buildings but currently only three are being used for adult inpatient service.  It has 105 beds to serve five counties.  The number of beds at the other facilities is not publically reported, but is about forty beds each.

Hutchings is the only place that admits children and adolescents, and it has 30 beds for that use.  There used to be a private hospital, Benjamin Rush Center, whose owner had wisely read the future and created a large children’s’ unit in the 107-bed facility.  After the owner’s death, the hospital was sold to Four Winds, and then closed by the state for “numerous deficiencies.”  Speaking from experience, on its worst day Four Winds was better than Hutchings on its best day.  But when the state investigators come, are they going to hold a private facility to the same standard as a state facility?

There is bias against treating people for profit, no matter how well and how successfully they are treated.  Additionally, the argument is that the state hospital has to be kept open no matter how poorly it treats people (“We will work with the staff and try to engender improvements.”) because the need is so great.  The state can’t shut itself down; it has to have some place to put people.  Besides, Medicaid charges for Hutchings treatment are less than Medicaid charges for private treatment.  In the end, it is never about the quality of care; it is always about the money.

The end result of the shortage of inpatient psychiatric beds is that patients back up in CPEP and general hospital emergency rooms.  The director of Upstate Medical Center’s children’s emergency room attended a public hearing and made it very clear that he didn’t want children with mental problems in “his” emergency room.  So what happens?  Nine-year-old Michael ends up sharing space at CPEP with Al the convicted killer. 

When there are no vacant beds in the county, CPEP staff have to start searching the state to find any bed, anywhere.  Patients are sent out-of-county, away from their family, friends and homes, in order to receive treatment.  In Central New York there is a gross failure of hospital administrators and government officials to plan and work effectively to meet the needs of patients with psychiatric diagnoses.  (To be continued)

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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