MENTAL ILLNESS: Patient Fraud Costing State Millions
People faking mental illness "cost the state up to $7.1 million each year by occupying beds and receiving medical treatment that could be used by people who are truly mentally ill," the Riverside Press-Enterprise reports. A random study conducted by the state Department of Mental Health last year at four state mental hospitals -- Patton, Napa, Atascadero and Metropolitan -- found that "at least 11% and maybe as many as 25%" of the people confined to state mental hospitals because a judge found them unfit to stand trial are "actually sane." According to department spokesperson Nora Romero, some 20% of the state's total mental hospital population consists of people found incompetent to stand trial. She also noted that it is three to four times more expensive to house a person in a state mental hospital -- about $300 a day -- than a prison or jail. The malingerers "take up bed space, treatment and dollars when they don't have a mental illness," Romero said. Not only do the faking patients deplete valuable funds, said Patton Executive Director Bill Summers, but they also create disturbances and complain more than their truly ill counterparts. "They're a small group, but they're a big pain," he said. Kim Lewis, president of the California Association of Mental Health Patients' Rights Advocates, said, "Anytime you're diverting money away from who it is intended to serve in a state agency, that's not a good thing." San Bernardino Defense Attorney Rosalio Castro blamed the psychiatrists who evaluate possibly insane defendants prior to trial. "I think it's the fault of the evaluator if they miss it. We don't pretend to know about mental illness. It's a big mystery to us," Castro said. State mental hospital officials "are hoping to cut down on such deception by alerting attorneys, judges and state psychiatrists to the problem and establishing guidelines to help them detect criminal defendants trying to slip through the cracks of the legal system by pretending to be insane." The guidelines will require longer periods of examination by the court-appointed psychiatrists. They could be enforced as early as next summer (Grenda, 11/29). Click here to read the entire article, as distributed by Scripps- McClatchy Western Service.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.