In regards to the transient woman found dead ("Transient woman found dead in northwest Napa identified," June 8):
I have known Kathleen since we were 14 years old. She became mentally ill at 18, and has been in and out of a broken mental health system ever since. I am sure every mental health worker in this town dealt with her at some point.
She was ornery, combative and downright rude, but this was her illness. I tried repeatedly to get her help. I spoke to people at the crisis clinic, spent hours there, spoke to her county case worker, to explain she would die if they did not step in.
She was diabetic, had heart disease, was diagnosed as border line-personality, and bipolar. She never had a chance. How does a homeless person with the plethora of meds she was on keep track of her medication?
Napa County Mental Health failed her. They fail our mentally ill homeless every damned day. She needed to be forced into Napa State. She was a harm to herself and others.
But the system is broken, and this is the result. No amount of money thrown at this will help, if the people running the show do not do their jobs.
As individuals, we are pretty damned powerless. Her case worker told me if she ended up in the hospital again, she would be forced to go under conservatorship. That was two years ago, and she has been hospitalized numerous times since. and they did absolutely nothing.
She showed up at my house 10 days ago, saying she had just been kicked out of a program. They kicked her out, after being unable to adhere to the program rules. Well shouldn't that have been an indication that she needed to be hospitalized at Napa State? We allowed her to take a shower, fed her, and took her where she asked to go.
Her death is on their hands. She was mentally ill and they put her back on the street to die.
It is shameful.
Editor's note: The Register asked the county about the issues raised in this letter. Napa County Mental Health Director William J. Carter send the following statement:
"This response is intended only to provide general education and information about mental health services provided by Napa County Mental Health. In doing so, I am not confirming the individual referenced in the article or letter was a client.
"I begin by acknowledging the grief and loss the letter writer is experiencing. I, and my colleagues at the Napa County Health and Human Services Agency and Mental Health Division, understand the pain, confusion and anger experienced by friends, family and helpers who watch individuals struggle with mental illness and substance abuse disorders. We, too, are friends, family and helpers to these individuals. It is a blessing that Ms. Nance had such a loving friend.
"Napa County Mental Health does not have an unrestrained ability to “force” individuals into psychiatric hospitals. A complex set of laws balance an individual’s right to autonomy and freedom against the interests others may have in taking that person into custody for her protection. When individuals in our community meet criteria for involuntary hospitalization (Welfare & Institutions Code Section 5150), we follow the legal process without hesitation, and arrange for treatment in psychiatric facilities. When individuals do not meet criteria for involuntary hospitalization, Napa County Mental Health makes ongoing outreach efforts to engage them in services voluntarily. In some cases, individuals do not choose to avail themselves of services.
"Early death in people with serious mental illness is a national health crisis. In the U.S., individuals with serious mental Illness die an average of 28.5 years earlier than the general population. With this foremost in mind, Napa County Mental Health is committed to serving our community, working every day to support individuals we serve in their efforts to live long, healthy and fulfilling lives."