Fwd: CATS Team in Florida

Morgan Brown (morganbrown@hotmail.com)
Tue, 02 Dec 1997 05:45:53 PST


The following is something I pulled from one of the listserves I'm on
and which I thought may be of interest to some of you or others you
know of.

Morgan <morganbrown@hotmail.com>
Montpelier Vermont USA

-------Forwarded message-------

Date:         Mon, 1 Dec 1997 
Via:     ACT-MAD Mental Health Activism Discussion
From:         Sally Clay <sally@digital.net>
Subject:      CATS Team in Florida

Published Sunday, November 30, 1997, in the Miami Herald
Ex-patients now support mentally ill

Team offers help from experience

Herald Staff Writer

When the mentally ill complain about hospital
conditions or ineffective treatment, they're often
accorded the same respect as a babbling toddler or
someone in a clown wig.

At least that's how Lloyd Flemming remembers it when
he went through the shock of going from a responsible
job to mental patient status after checking into a
hospital for depression.

``I saw with my own eyes how little respect people
with mental illness get,'' Flemming said. ``You
become a nonentity. You are completely at the whim of
whoever is in charge of you that day.''

He aims to change that.

These days, Flemming is a member of the Office of
Consumer Affairs of the Department of Children and
=46amilies, responsible for assessing treatment
facilities and handling complaints from those
struggling with mental illness.

CATS -- Consumer Assessment Team Specialists -- is
the only consumer office in the state run by the
mentally ill for the mentally ill.

Part of a growing national consumer movement, team
members not only participate in regular DCF
inspections of hospitals and out-patient therapy
centers, but offer the mentally ill a place to turn
when they're having problems ranging from rights
violations to simply getting the services they need.

``I want the clients to be comfortable with us and
know that they will be listened to,'' said Gayle
Bluebird, director of the office and its founder.

Much of their work is done by traveling to Broward
mental-health facilities and meeting with patients
away from the ears of staff.

The conversation always starts with an explanation of
the CATS member's own experiences with mental illness
so that patients know they're dealing with someone
who'll understand. Then a freewheeling discussion of
the program's benefits and shortcomings follows.

In the end, CATS members report their findings, which
are kept confidential to protect patients, with
recommendations for change.

On a recent visit to a drug-treatment facility,
several teens told Flemming they were made to sleep
on the floor as punishment for misbehavior.

Though the staff denied it at first, Flemming was
able to push them to stop the practice.

Other improvements CATS has fought for include using
quiet rooms as an alternative to restraints and
making it easier for patients to save money and take
other steps to live independently.

Coming out of the mental-health system themselves
gives CATS members a unique perspective on the
complaints they hear routinely from clients.

When they say they've been there, they've been there.

``We know the pain,'' said Marilyn Carmi. ``When
somebody calls and say they can't get out of bed, I
can say I know where you're coming from. I say there
are days when I cry for a whole day and I can't get

Selene Weiss understands the shock people who've been
committed against their will go through -- she was
led off in handcuffs after a long bout of depression
became a crisis one night. Taken to a local
psychiatric hospital and drugged against her will,
she remembers how afraid she was.

``I promised myself I would do everything I could to
make sure this doesn't happen to others,'' Weiss

That's the common refrain of CATS members -- the vow
to make the mental-health system more responsive.

It started with Bluebird, once homeless, who managed
to pick herself up and become involved with the early
days of the mental-health civil rights movement in
the 1970s. A registered nurse who worked for HRS
monitoring facilities, she was unsatisfied with the
cursory satisfaction surveys given to mental-health
clients and began pushing for a consumer office,
which was started in 1993. Now, with a staff of six
that has expanded to cover the county's hospitals,
day programs, children's facilities, substance abuse
programs and even the newly formed mental-health
court, she has visitors from other counties and
states looking to start something similar.

But Bluebird and the other CATS members think their
greatest accomplishment may be that the patients and
the staffers they deal with often are surprised to
learn that they were once patients themselves. They
hope that gives staffers a new respect for their
patients, and patients a role model for improving
their lives.

``If we can do it, if we can struggle to stay out of
the hospital and manage our lives, then you can do
it, too,'' Flemming said. ``I'm here to change
perspectives . . . to shatter that stigma. Then I can
rest easy.''
To contact the Office of Consumer Affairs, call (954)

           Copyright =A9 1997 The Miami Herald

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