- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 17, 2000

In June 1997, U.S. District Judge Aubrey Robinson ruled that D.C. officials had failed repeatedly to do more than warehouse mentally ill patients, and he decided to place the D.C. Commission on Mental Health in receivership under the guidance of a court-appointed administrator. Part of the administrator's job was to draw up a plan for providing better services. But are the administrators Dr. Scott Nelson, the original appointee, and current interim head Dennis Jones really improving services? Consider the difficulties the media are having trying to get basic information on the problems at the city's hospital for the mentally ill from the office of interim administrator Dennis Jones. Interest in the story began some months back, when the city moved several mentally ill children to St. Elizabeths Hospital for treatment. Then, a couple of weeks ago, Del Walters, an anchor at WJLA-Channel 7, aired an investigative report on how dangerous patients are allowed to roam the grounds of St. Elizabeths and come and go as they please. The lax security has rattled the nerves of the surrounding community.

This page published an editorial May 8, urging a probe of the hospital. Yesterday, editors called the Mr. Jones' office to get some facts for a follow-up. First, Mr. Jones' special assistant, Phyllis Blair, wanted the questions faxed to her, saying if not she would have to get "a pencil" to write them down. Then, she argued over semantics. When editors used the common term "inpatient" Ms. Blair responded, "Who do you mean?" When asked how many patients are "in homes or centers elsewhere in the city" and whether patients are "placed outside the city boundaries," Ms. Blair asked another question. When asked, "How often does the receiver visit St. Elizabeths Hospital?" the special assistant said, "That's enough."

While Ms. Blair allowed another question, "How long have the receiver's offices been on Connecticut Avenue?" Ms. Blair said she would do the requisite "research" and get back with the caller. The call back yielded few results. Instead, Ms. Blair suggested a sit-down interview would be best and, if need be, a writer could "rush" to the receiver's digs in Van Ness and conduct the interview there.

No problem. But that should not be necessary. Help for the mentally ill shouldn't have to wait this long.

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