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Ohio to get residential mental-health center for those released from hospitals

February 5, 2017 | By Alan Johnson

When ground is broken in May for the $2 million Adam-Amanda Mental Health Rehabilitation Center in Athens, the two namesakes won’t be there.

Adam Knapp and Amanda Baker, two young adults who struggled with mental illness, took their own lives after the mental-health system failed them, family members say.

But their parents and other supporters say the center bearing their names will be a “pathway to hope and healing” for others. It will be the first residential rehabilitation facility in Ohio – and one of few in the nation – to provide longer-term care for patients released from psychiatric hospitals. The National Alliance on Mental Illness Ohio is spearheading the project, which is designed as a “step-down” facility for patients from Athens’ nearby state hospital, Appalachian Behavioral Healthcare.

Becky Baker, Amanda’s mother, said she is excited about the rehab facility because it will serve both mental- and physical-health needs.

“I’m certain with all my heart, if there was a facility around like this, Amanda would be alive today,” Baker said. “She cried out for help and didn’t get it.”

The suicide rate is 14 times greater than average in the first 90 days after people are released from psychiatric hospitals.

NAMI Executive Director Terry Russell, a veteran of four decades in the mental-health field, said he is frustrated about repeatedly hearing stories of people released from state hospitals with nowhere to go. Many end up on the street, in jail or dead, he said. He calls the fundraising drive for the center the “enough is enough” campaign.

“We have to look at different ways of doing things than we’ve done for the last 50 years,” Russell said. “We’re talking about the sickest of the sick. We can’t let them walk the countryside.”

Russell and NAMI hope the Athens pilot project will be replicated near five other state hospitals.

The 16-bed facility will be built by renovating an existing respite-care facility owned by the Athens-Hocking-Vinton Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board. The state has committed $500,000, and NAMI is providing $100,000. The remainder is expected to come from contributions, including a gofundme online campaign.

“I’ve always believed it was an injustice for people to be discharged from a hospital and go back in 30 days,” said Earl Cecil, executive director of the three-county board. “That’s a very traumatic experience for the patients and their families.”

The center is to allow patients to stay up to 50 days – sufficient time to get their care and medication stabilized and plan for being released into the community, Cecil said.

The annual operating cost is estimated at $860,000 to $940,000.

The state began emptying its hospitals in 1988, promising to provide local services for the patients. But the promise went unfulfilled, Russell said, resulting in patients getting short-term treatment before being released to caregivers, or sometimes to homeless shelters or the streets.

Adam Knapp, 30, an athlete, top student and avid outdoorsman, died on a road outside Seattle in October 2010 after a six-year battle with schizophrenia. He had been hospitalized several times but was released over his parents’ objections that he was not fully recovered. Knapp survived a head-on crash before getting out of his car, jumping the center divider and running into traffic, where he was hit by at least four vehicles.

“Of course, we wished he would have something like his,” his mother, Marcia Knapp, said of the center. “But we want to help other families so they don’t have to go through what we did. That makes us feel better.”

Amanda Baker testified before state legislators in 2013 and 2014, encouraging them to pass legislation helping those with mental illness get treatment, even over the patients’ objections if necessary. But in August 2015, shortly after being released from a hospital, Baker walked onto Interstate 75 south of Dayton into the path of a semi-trailer.

Becky Baker said of her daughter and the facility that will bear her name: “I think she would be very proud and she would be happy she is able to make a difference. Her big thing was, ‘Let’s make a change one act of kindness at a time.’ Even if this would just save one life, it’s worth it.”

Contributions to the center can be made online at www.namiohio.org or by calling NAMI at (614) 224-2700.

NAMI Southwest Ohio is dedicated to improving the lives of families and individuals affected by mental illness through education, support and advocacy.

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