September 1, 2013

Letters to the editor: Force won't make Riverview safer

As a former employee at Riverview Psychiatric Center, I state that some of the best health care providers I have ever known work there. The compassion and commitment shown there are truly inspiring.

click image to enlarge

“Staff, training, time and optimism” help establish the kind of ties between patients and caregivers that ensure safety at places like Riverview Psychiatric Center, above, says a former employee of the state psychiatric facility.

2004 Kennebec Journal File Photo/Joe Phelan

Current difficulties may not lie in the legal status of those served, but likely in the commitment to providing the resources to maintain fidelity to the principles of the organization. Treatment for persistent mental health conditions is primarily delivered through relationships.

Although it may seem counterintuitive, Tasers, restraints, seclusion and other forms of force do not make the staff or the patient safer. They make the hospital more dangerous.

Great treatment from trained staff who have the time and skill to establish a therapeutic alliance with the patient is the best way to ensure safety and facilitate recovery. Force and control breed fear, lead to more violence, erode the benefit from treatment and ironically predict the patient's future resistance to treatment.

Riverview has the answers to address the problems it faces; they dwell in the minds of their best employees.

Providing enough staff to spend time doing the vital work of engagement; develop and nurture the therapeutic relationship; and deliver the best treatment will make the facility safer. These steps take staff, training, time and optimism.

Reaching a helping hand to a distressed, scared, confused person always involves risk to the person reaching out. When those treated perceive the person trying to help is an aggressor, risk rises.

The practice of trauma-informed care teaches us that those served in hospitals like Riverview have a life history of being the victims of violence, assault, neglect and injury. Many are oversensitive to "controls"; add in disturbances in perception, and you have fertile ground for violent reactions.

Force in hospitals does not make them safer. Compassion and relationships make for safer environments.

David Proffitt


Description of 92-year-old reinforces anti-old age bias

Speaking as a septuagenarian, almost an octogenarian, I read with interest "Study seeks 'super ager' secrets to brain health" (Aug. 25).

In her otherwise well-written article, Associated Press reporter Lindsey Tanner makes a common journalism error that I often pointed out last year to social work students in my Maryland gerontology courses. Turner describes a 92-year-old woman as looking "far younger than her 92 years." No, that is what 92 looks like!

When a reporter told Gloria Steinem on the occasion of her 40th birthday that she didn't look 40, Steinem retorted, "This is what 40 looks like -- we've been lying for so long, who would know?"

It has become common in our culture to tell an elderly person, as a kind of compliment, that they look younger than their chronological age. This, however, is ageism.

What one is really saying is that it is better to look younger than older, reinforcing the prejudice against old age and undermining an elder's self-worth.

Judith Church Tydings

South Thomaston

Facts supported the closure of 'Pineland-type facilities'

George Fogg's Aug. 18 rant against deinstitutionalization ("Letters to the editor: Deinstitutionalization puts unstable people on the street") is factually wrong.

Deinstitutionalization was not fashioned by liberals. It began with the medical profession and social science research that came to realize that many people detained in Pineland-type facilities should not be there.

Many were not handicapped or dangerous -- they were drug users or alcoholic, had post-traumatic stress disorders or were simply old/senile. Many were not properly diagnosed prior to (or after) their detention.

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