Northampton Rally is April 17 at 2:15 p.m.

There will be a car rally in Northampton on April 17 at 2:15 p.m. The main goal is to get politicians to listen to workers who are calling for face masks and other safety gear. The car rally will be a caravan that will stop outside the hospital, a supermarket, and another location to-be-announced. It starts at the lower parking lot at the high school, 380 Elm Street. Organizers are asking people to bring signs saying things like, “Masks for staff and customers.” More information is at:

www.facebook.com/events/2532565650316125

Twenty-seven people had RSVP'd as of 8:30 a.m. The event is being organized by the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, which is affiliated with unions in the Valley. On average, workers in the USA make 27 percent higher wages when they join a union. That's according to www.bls.gov.

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In Brattleboro, workers at the Brattleboro Retreat mental hospital are union members. With around 830 workers, the Retreat is the biggest employer in the county that's home to Brattleboro. The workers have a web site at www.unap.org.

The September 5, 2019 edition of the Brattleboro Reformer newspaper contained an article written by a former patient at the Retreat, Michelle Neville. She wrote that, “due to the help of the hospital I experienced a period of no depression for over two years.... (At the Retreat in 2017) I had art therapy from a real art therapist, music therapy, and really meaningful group discussions. It really helped me and filled my heart with great experience and put me at some temporary ease while I was trying to get my depression under control.” The article continues with other specific and positive aspects of the Retreat.

Neville wrote that she returned to the Retreat as a patient in 2019 and things had gone down hill fast. Now it “seems to be more like a prison than a place of healing,” she wrote.

Louis Josephson is CEO of the Retreat. In an April 14, 2020 interview with the Valley Post, he was remarkably candid in his response to Neville's article. “It is true that the inpatient experience at the Brattleboro Retreat, and at similar hospitals across the country, has changed in significant ways over the last decade. These changes reflect a response from psychiatric hospitals to an ever-increasing list of restrictions issued by state and federal regulators and licensing entities. Most of these requirements, while driven by a desire to ensure patient safety, come at a cost to certain kinds of therapeutic programming and amenities once considered acceptable.”

Josephson continued, “While some therapeutic activities can no longer be provided, the Retreat has adjusted by adding new evidence based practices... to our inpatient programming. We’ve also added new secure therapeutic activity spaces, and an outdoor patient courtyard, that conform to regulatory requirements while providing needed healing environments. Inpatient stays at the Retreat are also now extremely brief – often just 5 to 8 days on average. The focus of treatment now leans heavily on stabilizing individuals in acute psychiatric crisis so they can continue the healing process in less restrictive environments. The Retreat believes that very short inpatient stays coupled with across-the-board safety restrictions that limit programming options is not an ideal approach to the care of many psychiatric inpatients. That said, the Retreat works hard to balance numerous regulatory requirements with the need to provide inpatients with a healing environment that offers the high-quality, compassionate treatment they deserve.”

To pressure politicians to take better care of mentally ill people will likely require a mass movement like the movements that ended legal slavery, won women the right to vote, ended apartheid in South Africa, and – here in the Valley – closed Vermont Yankee. All these mass movements included rallies like the ones being organized on April 17, 2020 by the Pioneer Valley Workers Center.

Richele Keas is a spokeswoman for a group that fights for better mental health care and that has a web site at www.nami.org. On April 14, she told the Valley Post she knows of no rankings of mental hospitals like the U.S. News and World Report (USNWR) “best hospital” rankings. Those ranking do not include mental hospitals. The USNWR web site says 42 million people per month read the site.

Allen Frances, MD is a professor at the Duke University School of Medicine. In a 2015 article that is at

www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/saving-normal/201512/worlds-best-and-wor...

he said Italy takes much better care of mentally ill people than the USA does. Frances quotes an Italian doctor who says, “For over 35 years, the town of Trieste with 240,000 inhabitants, has not had any kind of specialized mental hospital.... instead it has four community mental health centers that are open door and no restraint and a hospital psychiatric unit with six beds.... Families and friends are welcomed into an environment that is creatively designed and attractively furnished. This pleasant club-like atmosphere is normalizing—you usually can't tell who is staff, who is patient, who is family or visitor. Recognizing that recreation and pleasure are an important part of life, the centers include time and facilities for parties, trips, exercise, art and theater workshops.”

Frances writes, “To give the Trieste system a fair chance to succeed in the U.S., we would first need funding, training, time, dedication and compassion.”

Comments

I believe funding is the

I believe funding is the biggest barrier to decent mental health care for many people. Insurance companies demand the shortest possible stays despite what would be best for the patient. Long-term stays in a healthy sort of community setting can cost nearly $1000 a day, and only the very wealthy can afford that.

Debbie Franks
Grafton, Vermont

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