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Patients fear closure of mental health program

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Register Staff Writer

Probable closure of a Napa County program serving about 60 patients with mental problems has many of those clients fearful they'll wind up at Napa State Hospital.

Efforts are underway, however, to salvage enough of the Community House program to serve at least some of their needs, said Jim Featherstone, acting director of the Napa County Health and Human Services Department.

Featherstone is scheduled to address the Napa County Board of Supervisors about the problem Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.

"It's a real tragedy," Featherstone said Thursday. "It is a very meaningful service to its clients."

He said the program is primarily funded by MediCal, which is changing requirements for day treatment that will effectively mean Community House "won't meet client needs."

Those clients meet daily at a converted home in the 1700 block of First Street, where group discussions help them develop skills to cope with everyday life outside of a facility such as Napa State.

Featherstone said he and his staff are trying to develop a substitute program. "It won't make it okay," he warned. "(Clients') fears are legitimate."

He hopes by taking advantage of retirements, personnel can be found to operate a revised program "to continue in some small way to serve some of those needs. It won't serve them all. We don't have the money."

In past years, Featherstone said, the county has been able to find some flexibility in the system to help "float" such programs, but now, "There's no flex left in our system because of cutbacks in recent years.

"We're putting a plan together. It's not complete. It's so disappointing we can't continue (Community House) exactly as is," he said.

Several Community House clients appeared before the Board last week to voice their fears.

Earlier, they spoke with The Register on the condition only their first names would be published. They emphasized their meeting was not during program hours.

Rose, 49, was hospitalized with depression and suicidal tendencies before she was accepted at Community House. "I've been coming here off and on for about 15 years," she said. "I had very little coping skills. I wasn't assertive. I didn't know what personal boundaries were. I've learned them all here."

Holding back tears she added, "I have no family of my own. This is my family. There's no other program that matches this. I don't know what I'll do. I dread the day it's stopping."

"I'm kind of scared right now," said Tina, a 26-year-old woman who was at Patton State Hospital before coming to Napa and enrolling in Community House four years ago. "This program helped me stay out of Napa State Hospital. I need to go to a program where I have structure and I have friends. I feel comfortable (here) and this program has helped me a lot."

Tina said closure of the day program would mean she will have to find employment. "I am not emotionally ready for a job," she said. "There are not really many programs out there that I can go to."

Another client, 50-year-old Brenda, has been a regular at Community House since 1996. After a brother died, she became despondent and was admitted to Napa State. Eventually, the state mental hospital recommended she apply to Community House. "It helped me make it through the grieving process," she said. "The program is very structured. I get up early every morning looking forward to coming here."

She said the pending closure makes her angry. "I look at Community House as a second home. I trust everyone here."

"It's meant a lot to me because I am a survivor of severe child and adult abuse," noted 58-year-old Marcia. "Community House has given me support." She said it was an alternative to saying home "isolating."

"We're all devastated that it's going to close," Marcia said. "My fear is there are going to be a lot of hospitalizations for the members here, which is going to cost a lot more."

Wayne has been in and out of the mental health system since he was 12. He's now 48. "To close a place like this is sending us back to the dinosaur days," he said.



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