Teresa's comments to 40 law enforcement officers from across the county at a NAMI Contra Costa Crisis Intervention Training (CIT): 10/24/17
Good afternoon, my name is Teresa Pasquini. I am a lifelong resident of West Contra Costa County, a former Contra Costa Mental Health Commissioner, a NAMI Contra Costa member and a state and national advocate.
Today I speak as the proud mom of an adult child with schizoaffective disorder. He is also a former inmate No. 201202796 in Napa County. He became an inmate upon being arrested while a patient at Napa State Hospital. Contra Costa Mental Health had sent him to Napa State Hospital on a civil, not criminal, commitment because he was very sick. He has had all charges dropped after 5 years. Today he is doing very well at a rehab facility in Merced County. I spend my free time speaking out about our family journey because I want the world to know that he is more than an illness or a number. His name is Danny and he is a beloved son.
Our son’s first involuntary hold was a suicide by cop type event. He was 16. I have had to call the police over 50 times in the past 19 years in order to get him medical care. He was 5150d every time, which is not easy. That usually meant that we were living on the edge, in fear of what he would do to himself or someone else. We knew that if we called too soon he wouldn’t be taken into the hospital. So we waited and, when the time was right, my husband would stand watch while I snuck into the back room and dialed 911 and said, “Please hurry.”
We have had to watch our son walk out of our front door in handcuffs to the waiting ambulance too many times. It is the same door that I carried him through as a baby. This illness and system were not included in the dreams for our newborn son and our family. But now that they are our reality, I have committed to partnering with anyone to fix what I call the system of luck and heroics. All of us in this room are part of that system and we need to join our voices and start shattering silence about the chaos of care.
I believe in the power of public health and safety partnerships that include providers, law enforcement, detention staff, psychiatrists, judges, public defenders, DAs, nurses, case managers, peers, families and our neighbors. We are allies, not enemies, and we must help each other design a system of health and care, not luck and heroics. I am proud to be a founding member of the Behavioral Health Care Partnership at Contra Costa Regional Medical Center that was created in 2009. Under the leadership of the CEO, Anna Roth, we intentionally brought in law enforcement to work with us on the system redesign on our psychiatric units.
Since 2010, I've sat on the Executive Team of our county hospital and health systems as a patient and family advisor and I have worked closely with Lieutenant Sheriff Jeff Moule. In October 2014, I joined Lt. Moule at the National Quality Forum in Washington DC to share the story of our partnership at the Contra Costa Regional Medical Center. The name of the conference was called Hardwiring Humanity into Healthcare. Our session was titled “ A Mom and a Sheriff Partner to Create a Safe, Humane Environment for People with Mental Illnesses.” What a concept!
We're all trying so hard to fix this system. We aren’t there yet but days like today will bring us closer to change. And, change must happen because too many people with serious mental illnesses are still dying on the streets, in solitary or with their rights on because we still haven't designed a system that will provide the right care at the right time and in the right place. We still need a right to treatment before tragedy.
It must be noted that many families are afraid to call 911 when their loved one is in a psychiatric crisis and they should be. People with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter than other civilians approached or stopped by law enforcement, according to a study released by the Treatment Advocacy Center. “By dismantling the mental illness treatment system, we have turned mental health crisis from a medical issue into a police matter,” said John Snook, executive director and a co-author of the study. “This is patently unfair, illogical and is proving harmful both to the individual in desperate need of care and the officer who is forced to respond.”
This Treatment Advocacy Center Report, “Overlooked in the Undercounted: The Role of Mental Illness in Fatal Law Enforcement Encounters," urges lawmakers to reduce loss of life and the many social costs associated with police shootings by enacting public policies that will:
• Restore the mental health system so that individuals with severe mental illness are not left to deteriorate until their actions provoke a police response;
• Fund reliable federal tracking and reporting of all incidents involving the use of deadly force by law enforcement, whether lethal or not; and
• Assure that the role of mental illness in fatal police shootings is identified and reported in government data collection.”
Today, I call myself a recovering angry mom. I try hard not to blame and shame because I know that people don’t go to work each day to do harm. And, I want you all to know that my husband and I have done everything in our power to prevent harm, and protect our son and our community. We made those 911 calls knowing that things could go wrong but knowing we had no choice but to call for help. We are so grateful that when we needed you, you were there.
It's been the Sheriff deputies, not the health system, who've sent help to my home for the past 19 years during a mental health crisis. It's the deputies who've sat with my husband and me and comforted us when our son was placed in handcuffs and walked to an ambulance. It's often law enforcement that's on the front line and leading the way. But, it's time to lead together.
We've been waiting 50 years for a system of hospital-based and community services to be complete in order to prevent failing and jailing. We can’t keep waiting. So, I thank you for being here today learning together, because, really, we're all on the front line and together is the only way forward.
Please share Teresa's comments with those who have no experience with serious mental illness (SMI). We need public support in order to change our criminal mental health system. We need a mental illness system that recognizes SMI as a physical brain illness and doesn't "jail and fail" those with SMI.