Texas-Sized Mental Problems

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image by Dave Cutler

A caretaker repeatedly slams a patient’s head into a metal door. Another beats a charge with a hairbrush. Blind eyes are turned as patients sexually assault each other. These are some of the gravest abuses catalogued by a Texas Observer (May 2, 2008) investigation into the state’s mental health network. The culprit behind some 1,266 incidents of abuse in the past three fiscal years, the monthly muckraking magazine reports, is a systemic failure to fund enough qualified workers to provide decent care. 

The mess in Texas is extreme, but it’s no anomaly. Throughout the country, the task of caring for our most vulnerable loved ones, from infants to infirm elders, is treated as low-skill work at fast-food wages. There is a clear remedy to this problem, the American Prospect argues (May 2008): Use the government’s leverage in the human services arena (some 45 percent of health care costs are publicly funded) to demand fair-paying jobs with high-quality training and opportunities for professional growth. It won’t be cheap. The American Prospect pegs the price tag to underwrite such upgrades at $150 billion a year. But citizens would be investing in more than just better care. Society would reap good jobs that can’t be outsourced, a new ladder into the middle class, and a shot of earnings adrenaline for the economy.

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