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April 2, 2009 4:00 PM

Nursing-home violence

Posted by Letters editor

An issue of safety, not mental illness

An Associated Press story that appeared in a number of Washington state newspapers in recent days suggested that many violent young people with mental illnesses are being deliberately placed in nursing homes around the United States, posing a threat to other long-term-care residents ["Nursing home patients endangered by younger, mentally ill residents," Nation and World, March 22].

The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services does not offer services to violent people in inappropriate settings, nor do we offer skilled-care services for people who do not need that level of care. The article cited several cases of nursing-home violence around the country, but none of those cases is are from this state.

The sporadic anecdotes do not make up a trend -- or reflect the situation in our state. The long-term-care policy, service options and providers in this state offer better options for our residents.

People with mental illness are not normally dangerous to others. Statistically, people with mental illness are overwhelmingly more likely to be victims of violence than they are to be a threat to others.

A key premise of the article seemed to be that mental illness is something to be feared and ostracized, not treated as an illness. This kind of stigma is a throwback to superstition and ignorance -- attitudes that modern health care has moved beyond.

Violence in facilities, violence that threatens the most vulnerable populations and violence in general -- these are issues of safety, not to be confused with issues of health care or mental illness. Responsible reporting and editing should point out that difference, not blur it.

-- Doug Porter and Kathy Leitch, Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, Olympia

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