Gruesome Northshore case highlights shortage of mental health services

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wwltv.com

Posted on March 9, 2012 at 8:09 PM

Updated Friday, Mar 9 at 9:33 PM

Meg Farris / Eyewitness News
Email: mfarris@wwltv.com | Twitter: @megfarriswwl

Late Friday afternoon, St. Tammany Parish investigators arrested a second person in the case of a man found dead and dismembered inside of an ice chest in Slidell.

Deborah Fisher, who is believed to be the victim's daughter, and her roommate Heidi Todd, are now both charged with mutilating human remains and unlawful disposal of human remains.
Investigators say the women cut the victim up after he died and put his remains in an ice chest.

But those who are on the front lines say they are not surprised when they see this type of crime because of the lack of mental health treatment. And they say it's going to get worse.
And the problem is happening from parish to parish.
 
While investigating  that disturbing case of a man's body stuffed inside of an ice chest on the Northshore, The St. Tammany coroner made a startling announcement.

"It's not necessarily shocking to me and not necessarily surprising to me but certainly shocking, the nature of this demise, this death. In the country and of course in St. Tammany Parish, I do an awful lot of emergency psychiatric interventions  and we're on a record pace this year. We're doing something like on the order of 12 to 13 a day of psychiatric interventions," said Dr. Peter Galvan, the St. Tammany coroner and internal medicine specialist.

Since Hurricane Katrina,  emergency mental health interventions have quadrupled in St. Tammany. There's a tremendous burden on the staff and budget. Each patient takes up to an hour to process. 
 
"The coroner's role in committing individuals is totally separate and distinct from treating individuals, much like the sheriff can arrest  people but he can't prosecute them or give them jail time. He can do so much then the system has to work," Dr. Galvan explained. 

There is not one hospital on the entire Northshore that has inpatient beds for psychiatric patients. Think of it this way, imagine if there wasn't one hospital  in the entire parish  that could treat a different organ than your brain, say your heart or your liver. It wouldn't make sense.

Dr. Galvan says what's driving the problem is a lack of psychiatrists so Band-aids are being put on people who need definitive mental health treatment. He believes the situation will get worse as the state closes psychiatric beds.
 
That is also expected in Orleans Parish.

"There's a shortage of psychiatrists. There's a shortage  of in-patient psychiatric beds and that goes to the cuts that are coming up. And so we see a good number of psychiatric patients and we expect to see more when the cuts come through," said Internal Medicine specialist Dr. Samuel Gore who is the medical uirector of the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office. 

Dr. Gore says the extremely sick will still be treated and remain in a  psychiatric  hospital,  but many others, including those with the mental illness of drug addiction, are turning jails into large psychiatric wards.

"If more diversionary type programs and there's a greater  recognition of that, maybe the criminal behavior that is there is really more a result of a mental health, then that could be identified and maybe a better diversion as that goes." Dr. Gore said.  
Orleans Parish prison has 120 beds for mental health patients. Half of those are used for people with severe mental illness.  
 

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