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Psych care needs help

MY VIEW • Patient wishes more units would take Salem’s lead
by: ©2004 Citizens Commission on Human Rights, While bed restraints (above) and seclusion have been traditional techniques in psychiatric care, some facilities such as Salem Hospital have been more creative in defusing tense situations. One Portland patient wishes local hospitals would take up the same tactics.

I was locked up in Good Samaritan Hospital’s psychiatric unit at the time that the article “Creative calm” (Feb. 5) came out. Without a doubt, those were two of the worst, most traumatic weeks of my life. Clearly the staff there has not opted to follow any of the creative — and yet so simple — tactics developed by Maggie Bennington-Davis at Salem Hospital. The Plexiglas barrier was just the concrete representation of a much deeper problem in the attitude of the staff toward the patients on psychiatric acute care unit 4SE. Even when they did come out of their “bubble,” they were condescending and obviously inconvenienced by our needs. Negligence, incompetence and outright rudeness were commonplace at this so-called acute care facility, and I found not a single good Samaritan or even consistent ally. I felt like I was holding my breath until I was free, terrified by the power of these professional healers. Most of us were there for severe depression yet were treated like psychopathic criminals. No one became aggressive during my stay. I have no doubt, though, that when someone does, it is viewed as the person “acting out” — a confirmation of their need for seclusion or medication, rather than as a completely human response to being threatened and trapped and powerless. (Fight or flight is a basic Psych 101 concept, not rocket science.) The reason that the staff at the Good Sam unit acts as it does is because it is easier; to embrace Bennington-Davis’ dream of creating “a place that (is) all about healing and safety and joy” would require a total shift in attitude, and a little more time and effort than does chatting with other staff members. It also is because they can. Changes need to take place at the administrative level of these institutions so that staff members are not permitted to hide away from patients or treat them like offenders. I see Bennington-Davis’ philosophy of cooperation and mutual respect and kindness as a win-win situation. I believe the staff would have a richer work experience getting to know patients and offering some real help. I have no doubt that patients would benefit if, when leaving the hospital, they felt some hope and encouragement, rather than the total disillusionment, distrust and fear that I did. Almost two months later, I am still recovering from being in that hospital. Laura Crabtree lives in Northeast Portland.