In Springfield, Mass, this past week something happened that I didn’t know was possible. Years ago, when Ronald Reagan was president, a law was passed that factories couldn’t simply pack up and close. They had to let their workers know in advance that it was closing, because it put people’s lives in such chaos, that it didn’t seem fair and it disrupted whole communities.
A Springfield business seems to have topped that with a nifty feat of it’s own. Not only did they throw people out of work, they also threw people with medical problems out on the street. The Springfield International Health Center closed with no prior notice. The patients/clients were told that they had to get services elsewhere. They were, to the company’s credit, given a new place to go. The problem is that even if they can get in (an unproven assumption, argued against by the former employees), if that place is like most of the others nearby, the waiting list will be weeks long to make the transition.
That means that people who badly need their medicine might not get it. If any other hospital closed its doors in the morning and told its patients to seek treatment somewhere else, there would be a hue and cry that the world was collapsing. Hospitals can’t do that, can they?
But here’s the thing: this isn’t a hospital, it’s an “outpatient clinic” for people with addictions. I know that many people don’t like heroin addicts or alcoholics to begin with, but the fact of the matter is that they still are medical patients and the government has recently passed a parity law that says people with mental health problems must get at least as good care as people with physical health problems.
For some people, the thing that helps them not act on their alcoholism is a shot (pill?) of antabuse which makes them sick if they drink. For heroin addicts, there is a shot that they get once a month which does the same thing. Other addicts (actually nearly all of the addicts I know) have other problems — traumas which cause anxiety or depression; ADHD or bi-polar disorder (what we used to call “manic-depression” for all you Jimi Hendrix fans, out there) — that they drank or used to control. Those people also got meds — anti-depressants, anti-anxiety meds, mood stabilizers — at the clinic. These are the same meds people normally get from a psychiatrist.
Imagine someone going to the diabetes clinic and being told that all 200 patients were now going to be seen down the street and they were going to have to go there for their meds. Can you imagine the doctors and nurses at the other place? Can you imagine the chaos as their diabetes medication wore off? This is the same problem people at this clinic faced, just for a different problem.
What’s the difference between these patients and those? If those patients don’t get their meds, their will be raids on all the bakeries and donut shops nearby. If these patients don’t get their meds, their will be raids on people’s houses. There will be trouble in the bars. People will cope the best way they know how. In this case, they’ll call up their dealer, steal from a family member’s pills, and use the oldest occupation as their insurance coverage to get their meds. This is what many of them did before they were in recovery. Unless they’ve learned new patterns, it’s what they’ll do again. The city of Springfield, already fighting the battle of the budget, will use more police time, more fire station time (heroin addicts are known for nodding off while they smoke a cigarette) and the community at large will have to deal with this. If DCYF didn’t already have to cope with drug-related family problems, they will now. This is a horrible mess and I hope the community and other clinics can take up the slack, but 200 people is a lot of people to find help for.
Can they do this? I can’t imagine that its legal. It certainly isn’t fair to the community. It isn’t helpful or healthy for the patients/clients. Still, if a doctor dies or something in a big clinic, the same situation would occur. There must be plans to cope. I sure hope somebody figures out what they are and does them soon.