CPEP: Syracuse’s Gitmo


            On February 5, 2009, the Post-Standard published a letter that read in part “[CPEP]was filled way beyond capacity, with patients lying on chairs, floors, anywhere they could find space. It was quickly clear to us that it was understaffed, dealing with an extremely difficult, diverse population.”  Despite repeated notifications, the NYS Office of Mental Health fails to properly oversee St. Joseph’s Hospital’s management of CPEP.

            There was an old lady who was taken to CPEP after being raped.  CPEP is the Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program that is maintained by St. Joseph’s Hospital under the jurisdiction of the New York State Office of Mental Health.  I don’t know why they took the old lady to CPEP.  If I were an old lady—oh, gosh, according to the Onondaga County Department of Youth and Aging, I am an old lady—so, speaking as an old lady, if I get raped then I want to be taken to a hospital emergency department for a rape kit and I want the Rape Center to be called.  I don’t want to be taken to CPEP, nor, I imagine, would the other old lady if she’d had the slightest clue what she was getting into.

            When I met the Old Lady, she was announcing to everyone within earshot that if she ever got the urge to go to CPEP again, she would go out and get drunk instead.  Way to go, Old Lady!  All present nodded in agreement.  What brings her to mind right now is that I’m thinking about CPEP and I’m drinking.  It’s the only thing you can do.

            CPEP is in a small, free-standing building that was constructed near St. Joe’s for the sole and solitary purpose of housing CPEP.  Inside it has a “front” and a “back.”  The front of CPEP is a waiting room and treatment area; the back is sort of an inpatient unit.  One has to qualify it with “sort of” because “inpatient” in any other area of the hospital means you are being treated; in CPEP, it only means you are on hold.

            Neophytes and other naive kinds of people have this vague notion that psychiatric emergency care is, well, care—nurturing nursing attention.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Immediately disabuse yourself of the notion that emergency psychiatric care bears any relationship to compassionate treatment.

            For starters, once you pass through the door of the waiting room, you cannot leave.  If you go to a medical emergency room, you can walk out whenever you want to.  You can walk out when you’ve been there six hours and still haven’t been seen by any treating professional and you have, consequently, decided you’re not really that sick and you’d just as soon go home to bed.  You can walk out when the bleeding has stopped and you’ve had a chance to calm down, get a grip and decide you really don’t need stitches.  You can walk out after you’ve sat there for four hours, watched and listened to four other people who have the same symptoms you do, and have become aware that there’s a stomach virus going around and you don’t actually have an ulcer.

            In short, if you go to a medical emergency room, you can rest, reflect, come to your senses and go home.  Get up and walk out.  Be a free and independent agent.  Live your life as you see fit.

            At CPEP, from the moment that you enter, you are locked down until a psychiatrist sees you.  The receptionist—behind a Plexiglas window—orders you to sign in.  She does not tell you that once you have done so, you will have surrendered all your rights of independent decision making.  She also does not tell you that (a) you cannot smoke in CPEP and (b) you cannot go outside to smoke.  The minute you enter CPEP, you are instantly treated to nicotine withdrawal—as if you didn’t have enough problems already.

            The second thing that happens in CPEP is that you are strip searched.  The average American goes through his or her entire life without ever being strip searched.  The millions of human beings who go to medical emergency rooms every day are never, ever strip searched.  Cardiac crisis, broken leg, asthma attack—you aren’t strip searched.  Mental meltdown—which is to say, trouble with your psychological state consequent to the crippling of your endocrine, neurological or immunological systems, or environmental stress—and you get stripped and searched.  Hey, is this fun, or what?  (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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6 Responses to CPEP: Syracuse’s Gitmo

  1. mioche100 says:

    CPEP sucks!!!! Thanks for the blog. I’m writing an article about CPEP and came across your blog. I am accusing them of insurance fraud. 12 hours and no treatment and they get about 10,000 dollars a day from Medicaid for that. Now, whose insane??? Community was actually very humane. I’m a recovering alcoholic as is my husband and we died laughing about it being preferable to get drunk than to go there. So true! Thanks.

    • annecwoodlen says:

      Medicaid payments are based on single-eligibility patients using the service, and are very low. I don’t believe there is any way CPEP is getting $10,000 a day. What’s your source?

      • mioche100 says:

        That is the average amount psych wards get per patient per day. It may not be what CPEP gets. I am researching it. They are not forthcoming with the information.

      • annecwoodlen says:

        I am so glad you are researching it! I do love facts. Places you might try, with or without a FOIL: Onondaga County Library Reference Dept. 435-1900. NYS Comptroller’s Office, your state senator, CPEP’s budget for last year. Oh, gosh, oops–I’ve got a contact at NYS Medicaid–I will query him.

      • mioche100 says:

        Thank you. Discovering the appalling lack of quality care for the mentally ill in Syracuse has started me on a new mission, to research it, expose it, and see if there is actually an intentional agenda behind it. I have always been an activist. After finding out an old friend who suffered from mental illness committed suicide a few months ago, I decided to advocate for the mentally ill locally. I am mentally ill too, relatively high functioning, so I have experienced the system first hand. You and I are able to give this a voice. I respect you for writing about it and fighting as you do.

      • annecwoodlen says:

        There is no intentional agenda behind it. It’s just narrow-minded, bigoted, conservatism at work. Have you read my other blog–“Behind the Locked Doors of Inpatient Psychiatry?” http://behindthelockeddoors.wordpress.com/2013/05/21/cpep-again/ Where did you come from?

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