“Homes” For Mentally Disabled Are A Disgrace to Texas

The national revolution in care of the mentally disabled began with — no kidding — Geraldo Rivera:

In 1972, WABC-TV in New York sent rookie reporter Geraldo Rivera to Staten Island to infiltrate the Willowbrook State School. Robert Kennedy had visited the mental institution in 1966 and declared: “Willowbrook State School was not fit for even animals to live in.” Geraldo gained entry using a stolen key and documented the brutal and horrific living conditions of its disabled residents, which included several mentally retarded children. The report led to an immediate government inquiry and won Geraldo the Peabody Award.

But, as Jeff Carlton of AP found, Texas is still operating in a time warp. Under six governors since 1972 (Dolph Briscoe, Bill Clements, Bill Mark White, Bill Clements again, Ann Richards, George W., and Rick Perry), conditions seem as bad now as they were then:

In Texas, officials verified 465 incidents of abuse or neglect against mentally disabled people in state care in fiscal year 2007. Over a three-month period this summer, the state opened at least 500 new cases with similar allegations…And in the one-year period ending in September, as many as 53 deaths in the facilities were due to potentially avoidable conditions such as pneumonia, bowel obstructions or sepsis, the Justice Department said.

On the heels of the horrifying revelations about our juvenile detention system last year, one wonders what it is about our Legislative and governors that makes them impervious to the damage they are inflicting on the most vulnerable among us. Rick Perry’s recent bragging about that $12 billion budget surplus rings more and more hollow.


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33 responses to ““Homes” For Mentally Disabled Are A Disgrace to Texas”

  1. Grumpy Demo says:

    All part of the Texas “Healthy Bidness Climate” that Texas is famous for.

    Don’t forget Gov W ended almost all state substance abuse programs so he could fund tax cuts.

    It’s great to live in “Pro Life, Pro Family” state.

  2. Bethany says:

    We only care for them while they’re in utero. After that, they’re on their own.

  3. Tom says:

    Maybe Gov. Goodhair can find a “friend” in the mentally disabled home business, then strike a deal to get said “friend” some contracts to build new facilities.
    It works for the toll roads!

  4. Dallasite says:

    The Democrats closed most of the state schools in the 1980’s. I’m sure all those former patients are far better off living in the streets, and eating out of trash bins, than they were living in such horrible conditions in the mental institutions, huh Grumpy?

  5. Randy Mayeux says:

    This is part of an overall failure. Check our rankings, and it all becomes apparent. We have our surplus while, compared with other states, more of our kids don’t have health care, our graduation rates are not high enough to bring us pride, and…
    Bono said this in his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2006: “But the one thing we can all agree — all faiths, all ideologies — is that God is with the vulnerable and poor.” But this state has not live up to that challenge…

  6. Wick Allison says:

    Grumpy, Dallasite: Have either of you ever considered that your partisanship, which leads you to examine all probems through the lens of why the other party is to blame, doesn’t really contribute much to a conversation over what to do? Democrat or Republican, it doesn’t matter: most of your comments are just plain irrelevant. Buck up!It’s a new world out there. See if you can actually discuss/critique/propose some fresh ideas. IJS.

  7. Boo says:

    I used to work for Metrocare. For those who aren’t familiar this is a local, state/city funded MHMR that used to operate several group homes before selling them off. All I can say is ‘no shit’. This isn’t news, this has been going on for a long while. In Texas we try to keep our mentally ill and mentally retarded out of sight and out of mind. All the while we try to make ourselves feel better about it when they do come into view by funding poorly managed, poorly funded companies like Metrocare.

    I have nothing but bad things to say about my experience working in our state funded mental health/mental retardation industry. It’s not just the lack of funds, it’s the apathetic management that our state government could care less about.

  8. amanda says:

    Tragic. The test of any country/culture is how the young, elderly, and “infirm” are treated (in this example, mistreated), and cared for… There’s enough blame for political animals on both sides of the aisle in this circumstance. Somewhere along the way, compassion, and general HUMAN DECENCY got lost. I fear under the current system, it’s too late to right the ship.

    As Wick has pointed out (more than once), our state’s gi-normous surplus could be applied to areas of great need.

    I know a family with a profoundly disabled daughter in her mid-20’s. Her medical/mental issues are so severe (expensive), it is impossible to provide care for her in their home…she’s lived in both in state hospitals and in a nursing homes for the last 15+ years, provided by Medicaid. They visit her daily, and live in mortal fear that she will be raped, tortured, abused and/or beaten. As horrifying as this sounds, it is “normal.”

  9. Rawlins Gilliland says:

    While recalling Wick’s October editorial about how the Democratic party once seemed to him like the party of ‘shoulda’ do this, should do that, and despite every effort I’ve watched toss money at social issues, things get worse: I personally feel not only conflicted but overwhelmed seeing how few know or care to know/see what’s out there. For those interested, I could take you on a tour.

    My belief is that those who deserve and need care are 1) Children 2) Old people 3) Animals. The rest of us, unless challenged with mental issues and circumstances of health, can find a way. But without our help, children and old people and animals are helpless.

    I see (particularly the southern sector) parks …including those only blocks away….filling up with animals discarded by those who do not care or cared but cannot support them in this reverse economy. A cat with a sign around its neck reading ‘Ayudarme, por favor’…meaning ‘Please help me’. (I did.) The starving dog I tried to rescue who was so abused that when I kneeled to feed him he ran into oncoming traffic and was killed instantly.

    I see the vets on my street who paid the price going to Iraq and Afghanistan but got nothing upon their return except another deployment while their families dissolve and their homes foreclose.

    I can see why people seek the comfort of gated community escape because I walk a thin line each morning when I see the path to the tent on my walks in the forest…a path leading to a Vietnam vet has lived there for a decade. I am no goody bleeding heart knee-jerker, but I can honestly say that ignorance is a poor substitute for bliss; in the name of ‘I got mine’, we are forfeiting our most vulnerable. And it is our greatest failing as Americans.

  10. Sad says:

    Dallasite, you have a handle on the issue and there are two things wrong with the approach the mental illness advocates took:
    1. There are some people with mental illness who benefit from a structured environment with safeguards in place to prevent self-destructive behaviors, who when on a successful regimen of effective medications can succeed in life at some level, but unfortunately those same people are the ones who won’t take their meds and when they become adults, and no one can make them take their meds, no matter the consequences. And because of the horrible abuses in the past in institutions, the pendulum of social activism on the issue swung way too far in the opposite direction in trying to close all institutions.
    2. Community-based treatment, while ideal in theory, has never been funded adequately, has been privatized to vendors who at best, in too many cases are merely indifferent to the people they are supposed to be serving, and is largely inaccessible to all but the homeless. A middle class family who has a child or adult with mental illness is actually worse off than the indigent because private insurance has given short shrift to mental illness and even sliding scale fee charged by those community based programs to the middle class can quickly devour any resources a family might have. Funding and for care of the mentally ill is an embarrassment that all Texans should be ashamed of.

  11. Dallasite says:


    Without understanding the history of the problem, you really can’t come to a realistic conclusion, or “fresh ideas”. Most of the solutions being talked about today are identical to those enacted 20 years ago.

    It wasn’t so much Republican/Democrat that led to our current situation as the horrible conditions in the state schools. Repeated lawsuits eventually forced the Federal government to step in and force change. The state Legislature chose to follow the advocates’ advice, and close a lot of the state schools, instead of funding a solution to the problems there. (In their defense, the state economy was collapsing, and they were having trouble funding anything). The result is what I detailed in my now deleted post, that there are almost as many people with severe mental illness living on the streets of downtown Dallas as there are in the state mental hospitals. There simply isn’t an infrastructure at the community level that can handle the volume.


    1. Keep the state school system in place, but increase funding for oversight to insure the patients are receiving acceptable care.
    2. Privatize the system at the community level by creating the infrastructure necessary. This would require heavy monitoring by the state to insure care, and to prevent fraud.
    3. Neither. Create regional boards to oversee public mental institutions similar to the county hospital boards. This would still require state oversight, but it would remove the administration and operation from the state’s hands.
    4. Who cares? As long as I don’t see those scary people, it doesn’t affect me.
    5. Just throw money at it and hope it doesn’t make the news for a while.

  12. Dallasite says:


    I agree with your last sentence completely.

    What kind of society are we that allows thousands of mentally ill people to wander our streets aimlessly?

  13. Correction? says:

    Who is Bill White? It was Mark White.

  14. @ Daniel says:

    Well played sir.

  15. Bethany says:

    I’m still trying to figure out why people comment and read things they consider worthless.

  16. Steveâ„¢ says:

    These posts about Bush are just designed to upset people.

  17. Rawlins Gilliland says:

    Why is someone who is trying to ask important questions (in this case Wick Allison), who is meanwhile appealing to our best impulses rather than our base instincts with a provocative post…the enemy?

    Bethany, herself a blogger who knows this turf, always asks the right question at the right time in the right way. Is Wick Allison, by raising not only these questions, but attempting to raise the bar per this blog’s sense of self, the guy to whom one best aims one’s political barbs?

    Come on people. At this time, this is cannot be about us vs. ‘them’. It is about us. Lighten up and then get serious. There are a ton of issues that neither party or era has addressed. Why not try to seek dialog in support of our new president and our local voices per national and local concerns? To entrenched die-hard partisans: What do any of us stand to gain by holding our breath until we die?

  18. Code Punk says:

    Dear Moral Oral Rawlins
    Because life is not all Skittles and lipstick.

  19. Bethany says:

    Is that really an answer? If so, can I borrow it the next time the CEO asks me anything?

  20. Code Punk says:

    Bethany, No like the name Steve, it is already trademarked. Royalties are involved in any future use. Beyonce is currently recording a song based on this title.

  21. Bethany says:

    Really? Because it sounds more like a Clay Aiken song.

  22. Wick Allison says:

    @Dallasite and others: Very interesting historical perspective on the mentally ill. These institutions, however, are for the mentally disabled.

  23. Drew Fuller says:

    The above is a fine example of bigger picture. For whatever reason, a partisan divide has been created that will not allow for a civil discussion on any topic. The middle ground is gone. Can Obama unite a nation this divided? No, not in the baby boomer’s lifetime. Our hope comes in the our children’s children. The answer.
    Smoke more weed.

  24. Code Punk says:

    You are right Bethany. I always get those two confused. Is it Beyonce or Aikin that has a song out now about putting a kochring on it?

  25. Rawlins Gilliland says:

    Drew Fuller: Per the middle ground: Keep the Faith.

    I am genuinely fortunate to spend a lot of time with people in their 20s…the so-called Gen Y. And I relate to them in the sense of ‘issues’ more than any generation of my time. They are of course not monolithic or perfect. But they are certainly more focused on what matters in the scheme of American things. They also look at issues more in terms of trade offs rather than rigid all-or-nothing. My hope is that we take a key from our next generation…of new leaders and our young persons…and be civil but embarrassed by those who make any subject a forum for black/white prosecutorial win/win agression. Pit bulls are falling out of favor. So should people who have no interest in seeing each others’ points and points of view. Or as I call them, ‘alternative realities’.

    Speaking of which, I am speaking at the Angelika on Mockingbird at a private screening of ‘Milk’ after 7. Free to first come first serve in line (inside) after 6. Hope someone reading this shows up. I want to meet you. Regards, Rawlins

  26. Dallasite says:


    “@Dallasite and others: Very interesting historical perspective on the mentally ill. These institutions, however, are for the mentally disabled.”

    I see them as a single issue, but I understand your point.

    My post (the long one) was primarily about the state school situation. The first three options I listed are ways to deal with the deficiencies at those schools. The last two options are the ones most likely to be adopted.

  27. Nameless says:

    I knew Harvey Milk and you are not the person he would want to speak at any event for him.

  28. Bethany says:

    It takes a big person to make an anonymous jab.

  29. Rawlins Gilliland says:

    Actually, ‘Nameless’, I indeed ‘knew’ Harvey Milk as the guy who developed my film at his 70s Castro neighborhood shop. You can relax. Not being ‘Nameless’ myself, I am speaking solely respresenting people who care to make a difference on any level. Would that include you?

  30. Andrew says:

    Wyck, where else in the Texas budget do we take the money that you think is necessary to properly fund mental health?

    How much does the Texas governmental need to increase the mental health and juvenile justice budget to in your mind solve the problems?

    Do you not agree that just a few sessions ago, Texas faced a major budget crisis that was addressed without increasing taxes on Texans thanks to the GOP leadership?

    Do you not agree that keeping taxes a low burden on the working people of Texas is a worthy goal and a basic tenet of conservative philosophy?

    Are you now arguing Texas government needs to raise taxes in a challenging economic time?

    Are you wishing Democrats had been in control during good economic times to raise taxes, expand government, and thus put us in a position of having a deficit at this time? It certainly seems that by deriding the surplus you are arguing the Texas state government doesn’t spend enough.

    You appear to be advocating polices that would have forced the Texas state government to raise taxes in a challenging economic time! Do you want Texas to provide as much government largesse as California and then go begging to the Federal government because we cannot pay our bills?

    Don’t you know that only the legislature can fund mental health from the surplus when it is in session, and that it will likely do so once the session begins in January? Don’t you think the GOP elected officials will address this issue now that they know about the extent of the problem?

    Do you not recall the massive effort by GOP members of the legislature and the Governor to address juvenile justice issue last legislative session?

    Wyck, you are no longer a Republican or conservative. You want people to pay more money to the government and for government to be bigger. You ignore massive efforts by the state GOP elected officials to control costs and to address problems once they become aware of them.

    And that is OK. But please, admit you are not longer a Republican or conservative. Just admit you are a Democrat and support bigger government, and that you despise the GOP leadership of this state. I am tired of you being referred to as a “former National Review publisher” being used to make you a so-called Republican criticizing your own. You are not a Republican any more. Be honest with us. It’s OK.

  31. Bethany says:

    Does misspelling someone’s name mean you don’t care to scroll up a little and look for the correct spelling, or does it mean that you are really throwing down by showing contempt by intentionally doing it?

  32. Andrew says:

    I apologize for misspelling Wick’s name, I have an old friend who spells it Wyck. No contempt intended in the inadvertant error. I have no contempt for Wick. Irritation, yes, but not contempt.

  33. I don’t think there is any way around it: If we truly want to improve the homes for the mentally disabled, then we will need to buckle up and pay up via our tax dollars. We have to move as a society away from the attitude of just,” what is in this for me if I take this action” to a society that is willing to take action simply to improve the lives of others. I know that we are all devoted capitalists, but in the Darwinian philosophy of capitalism, those less able to compete than ourselves, like the children, elderly and the animals, as Rawlins mentioned, will never survive. This is where we need to borrow pages out of the UK or France or Switzerland where the people happily pay higher taxes to provide the least strong among them with the basic medical needs. So while no, we shouldn’t become a society that enables those who can help themselves, we need to take a good look at sacrificing a bit more tax money towards enabling those who can’t enable ourselves.

    And if you still gotta feel like your money is coming back to you, then think of it this way: Perhaps you are the one paying it back…perhaps that mentally disabled person’s father or mother paid their tax dollars into the regular school system so you could receive an education their child would never be able to receive. Perhaps we can work the jobs we do because of that education. So perhaps we shouldn’t even think of it as “when and how do I get this dollar back” but rather, we should think of it as,” this is to thank the people who enabled me.” by turning around and doing what it takes to help their mentally disabled children. So Democrat or Republican, progressive or conservative, it doesn’t matter. We are citizens who share the responsibility of taking care of these people. And those numbers may grow as veterans return from war…so instead of blaming each other, let’s get to work and make sure the next generation doesn’t have us to blame for inheriting an even worse situation.