18. ADOLESCENT MENTAL INSTITUTIONS -- BIG PROFITS,
The summer camp/boarding schools of the '90s
may well be adolescent mental institutions where parents can commit their rebellious,
This is Reaganomics-style mental health care. Those
who can afford it get it. In California, changes in the state law have made free
market conditions -- not need -- the criteria for building new facilities. The
fierce competition to fill beds has pushed hospitals into aggressive marketing
-- selling mental health like so much laundry soap.
In the last ten years,
teenage psychiatric hospitalization has increased between 400 and 500 percent.
This reversed an earlier trend which had favored outpatient, community-based care.
However, because most insurance policies severely limit coverage for outpatient
therapy, hospitalization has become the only "affordable" form of treating
While beleaguered public mental health clinics that serve low-income
patients are shutting down and scaling back on services, private hospitals are
The San Francisco Bay Area is attracting an increasing number of these
new profit-making institutions. The Community Psychiatric Centers, a
Laguna Hills-based hospital chain which operates the Walnut Creek Hospital
in the Bay Area, plans to open three new facilities in the area. Georgia-based
Charter Medical Corporation, which last year became the first psychiatric
hospital chain to top the billion-dollar mark in annual revenue, also
is planning to open three hospitals in the area. And Century Health
Care, based in Oklahoma, has opened the Oak Grove psychiatric center,
which specializes in adolescent care, in the East Bay area.
Parents can commit their children to mental hospitals without
their consent. The child is often put on medication and goes through extensive
To the parent, the private hospitals provide an
alternative to juvenile hall; to the adolescent, they are branded insane; but
to the hospital chains they spell enormous profits.
Many of the young patients need therapy, some experts say, but not
hospitalization. In fact, some critics say that the institutions worsen
the situation. In some cases, adolescents get addicted to the highly-structured
"safe" life of the mental ward. Kids that are dragged in kicking
and screaming, committed against their will, are sometimes scared to
leave; even after being released, some kids have actually run away ...
back to the mental institution.
One analysis of mental health costs to large
employers revealed that while the number of adult hospital admissions over the
last decade has remained relatively constant, admissions for children and adolescents
have risen sharply -- especially in private hospitals. One company studied had
spent $1.5 million one year on 23 cases, an average of $65,000 per case. Twenty-one
of the 23 cases were for the children of employees.
The trend may be reversed
by insurance companies and self-insured corporations which now foot the skyrocketing
costs for the mental health care of employees and their families.
4/10/88, "Cleaning Up," by Don Lattin, pp 26+.