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The Closure of Southeast Louisiana Hospital

Charles Maldonado on the politics and the human cost of closing southeast Louisiana's public mental hospital

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  Shelley's social worker has told Hotard that it might be the stress of the move. Bradley worries that the move could be traumatic for some of her patients, and that's one of the reasons she's speaking out.

  "For the long-term patients, and the children as well, a lot of them are unable to advocate for themselves," Bradley says. "I think, ethically, we are obligated to be their voices. For most of my patients, Southeast is their home, albeit a temporary home. And the large majority of them don't want to go to Central and they don't want to go to East."

  Two uninterrupted years in one place has been about the maximum stay anywhere for Shelley Hotard. That's how long she was in East Louisiana State Hospital, until 2010, when 118 inpatient beds were eliminated there.

  "She was there about two years before our governor made the decision that East should close," Shelley's mom, Pat Hotard, says. "The folks at East told me that they were discharging as many people as possible."

  Because Shelley has been found to be a potential harm to herself and her mother, she was on the "do not discharge" list. She was transferred to Mandeville, where she had lived previously, again for two years (from 2003 to 2005), but was discharged shortly after Hurricane Katrina. The intervening years, between her discharge from SELH, and 2008, when she went to East, were difficult.

Dr. Avery Buras is a child psychologist at Southeast Louisiana Hospital. He says he was hiring employees and never imagined the hospital would close: "We didn't see it coming from anybody."
  • Dr. Avery Buras is a child psychologist at Southeast Louisiana Hospital. He says he was hiring employees and never imagined the hospital would close: "We didn't see it coming from anybody."

  A social worker at SELH called to inform Pat Hotard that Shelley was ready to be released into the community. She was placed at the Women's Community Rehabilitation Center in downtown Baton Rouge, Hotard says, but it didn't work out. "She was there about a week-and-a-half before she was dismissed from the program for lack of following the rules, compliance," her mother says.

  Her case manager put Shelley up in a homeless shelter, saying that she would find her a more permanent situation, possibly in another nearby group home.

  "So that didn't pan out," Pat Hotard says. "She ended up coming back home, because they were ready to put her out of the homeless shelter. I'm not really sure where she went after that. Her placements have been so many, that if I told you I could keep up with all of them, I would be telling you a lie, because I can't."

  Hotard tries to remember: Possibly Greenwell Springs [later closed], then Our Lady of the Lake, then St. Charles Parish Hospital, where, she says, a doctor recommended seeking a judicial commitment for Shelley.

  Then East.

  Then SELH.

  And now, Central.

  "I've been around the world, OK?" Hotard says, then rattles off the names of hospitals her daughter has called "home" to prove it. "West Monroe, Luling, Lake Charles, Allen Parish. You name it."

  She faces continued uncertainty with the move to Central, itself in flux. In February, DHH announced plans to phase out operations at the current Central site, building a new $6 million, 60-bed facility on state-owned land nearby. Construction on the proposed hospital is yet to begin. And, as an August article in the Alexandria Town Talk noted, the current proposal replaces an earlier plan to build a larger $27 million facility on Central's current grounds. Now, with the transfers from SELH, Central will have twice as many patients as designers had anticipated.

Several protests 
have been held in 
Mandeville regarding 
the closure.
  • Several protests have been held in Mandeville regarding the closure.

  Hotard says she worries that the Jindal administration's long-term plans are the closure or privatization of all state mental facilities.

  "I have emailed, I have written letters. You have no idea how many letters. I've gotten all my friends. I've probably sent 60 letters down to Southeast," she says. "I think right now, I guess, an autocratic government would be what I'd call it. It's a one-man band ... He is not open to suggestions. He's not listening to his people, to the voters."

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