River Views

by Malcolm Macdonald, October 15, 2013

For the past couple of months this column has been following a young man from the Mendocino Coast named William and his encounters with Mendocino County’s mental health system. William suffers from schizoaffective disorder and is essentially homeless. In the last days of September he was arrested for burglary and trespass then transported to the county jail in Ukiah. Family members called the jail to tell officers about William’s mental illness and that he does not do well in general population.

William is about 30 years of age, though even in booking photos he appears much younger. His mother, Carole, has made dozens of phone calls as well as writing numerous emails and letters to various county mental health officials in an effort to get those officials to recognize that William needs to be conserved in a long term mental health facility. She often sends copies of her letters and emails to county supervisors, law enforcement officials, and this columnist. At least one of the high ranking mental health officials has expressed the wish that Carole stop talking to so many different people, including the press, about William’s misadventures in the County’s newly privatized, for-profit, mental health system.

The burglary charge stemming from William’s late September arrest is a felony (coincidentally, the arresting officer was Craig Guydan of the Fort Bragg Police Department, who has been the subject of several other stories in the AVA). The trespass charge indicates that William may have been seeking shelter and/or food. He spent three to four days incarcerated in the county jail before being released in Ukiah during the first week of October. William is not familiar with Ukiah. He had no money, no knowledge of where to go for a free meal. He wandered the streets confused, sleeping under trees. He lost his backpack, which contained extra clothing. After four days and nights he was arrested again for stealing food. This time he was charged with receiving stolen property (a felony), shoplifting (a misdemeanor), and petty theft/retail (another misdemeanor).

William has never appeared in “11 O’Clock Court,” a term used for cases involving minor crimes committed by citizens diagnosed with mental illnesses. A September 25th AVA story described some of the reasons/excuses for delays in implementing the “11 O’Clock Courts” in Mendocino County, especially at Fort Bragg’s Ten Mile Court.

When William was arrested again in early October, his mother, Carole, made several inquiries in an attempt to get her son into the “11 O’Clock Court” system in Ukiah. One of her phone calls went to Mendocino County Director of Mental Health, Tom Pinizzotto. According to Carole, Pinizzotto seemed to avoid the issue by bringing up the fact that William also has a drug addiction. In other words Pinizzotto was claiming that he couldn’t readily help a young man with a diagnosed schizoaffective disorder because he also had drug problems. This is the same Tom Pinizzotto who was at an August meeting of Mendocino County’s Mental Health Board at which the agenda packet, that he assuredly received, included multiple pages outlining dual diagnosis disorders, like schizophrenia combined with a drug or alcohol addiction. These are all illnesses, not an excuse to ignore one diagnosis because of another ongoing illness.

Carole also spoke with someone in the Public Defender’s office who assured Carole that paperwork recommending William for the “11 O’Clock Court” program was on the desk of lead public defender, Linda Thompson. Apparently that paperwork was not seen before William’s last court date on October 9th. The most recent rumors from Ukiah had William released onto the streets of the county seat again. At the end of last week he was reportedly taken to a Ukiah Emergency Room (possibly by sympathetic law enforcement). Seemingly, William was assessed there then shipped to a mental health facility in St. Helena, an Ortner sub-contracted facility.

How long will William be there? He spent a week at Ortner’s North Valley Behavioral Health facility in Yuba City during August. William needs to be legally conserved for a much lengthier stay at a mental health center if he is going to be able to come to grips with a long term solution for his schizoaffective diagnosis as well as some sort of rehab for his drug problem.

During a Saturday, October 12, phone call William stated that he had been told that he was going to be held until he had an exit plan. Based on recent history, Carole believes that means William will be released as soon as he figures out how to tell Ortner officials where he will go to get food and shelter.

Ortner Management Group is receiving $6.7 million from Mendocino County this year in exchange for providing adults in this County with mental health services. One can’t help but wonder and question whether or not Ortner is deliberately avoiding long term care for citizens like William in order to save money?

Just so readers won’t think that the problems William and Carole have encountered are a one-off situation: Another coastal resident called a mental health crisis number last week seeking help. The person answering the phone told the citizen in crisis to leave his/her number and someone would call the citizen back. The person in crisis asked how long that might be. The answer from the crisis line: probably tomorrow or the next day. At public meetings, Ortner claims to have documented average crisis response times in terms of minutes, not days.

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