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Bipolar News

September 17, 2006

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Bipolar Son's Struggle for Help Troubles His Mother: Rehabilitation Attempts
RedNova Sun, 17 Sep 2006 2:11 AM PDT
By Meg Kissinger, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Sep. 17--Carol O'Brien is haunted by what could have been.

Debra LaFave's Ex-Husband: Why I'm Speaking Out
Newsweek Sat, 16 Sep 2006 11:25 AM PDT
The ex-husband of the Florida teacher who slept with a 14-year-old student explains why he's written a book about it.

Bipolar Son's Struggle for Help Troubles His Mother: Rehabilitation Attempts

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; 9/17/2006

Sep. 17--Carol O'Brien is haunted by what could have been.

Her son, Scott O'Brien, was 31 years old when he died July 18, 2005, having overdosed on the pain medication fentanyl while on suicide watch at the county's psychiatric hospital.

She wonders whether Scott would be alive today if he'd received the help he was looking for -- a permanent place to live, with counselors to watch over him.

"That would have been perfect for Scott," Carol, of Fox Point, said.

The county has a program that provides permanent housing. Last year, 268 people were enrolled in the Shelter + Care program. The county had money left to enroll 25 more people but didn't have the staff to accommodate them. In the past four years, the county has left more than $1.5 million in federal funds for that program and Safe Haven unspent, federal records show.

"What a waste," she said, shaking her head.

Carol remembers when Scott was a chubby-cheeked boy who helped her water her geraniums. She thinks about the man he hoped to be, a counselor for children who felt lost and alone.

When he was a kid, Scott loved to take stuff apart -- TVs, VCRs and radios -- and put them back together. He liked thinking about how things worked.

He graduated from Nicolet High School and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he majored in criminal justice and social welfare. People told him he looked like David Spade.

"He had a beautiful soul," his mother said.

But he was sick.

He never did get a job after college. Scott suffered from bipolar disorder most of his adult life. His life was a roller coaster ride -- way up one minute, way down another. He drank heavily. Vodka, mostly.

Scott lived with his mother until he pulled a gun on her, and she had to get a restraining order to keep him away.

"It broke my heart to kick him out like that," Carol said. "But the cops told me that I couldn't let him stay here when he was acting that way."

He tried alcohol rehabilitation centers, but he kept relapsing. One place ran up thousands of dollars on Carol's credit card. Scott went home a lot, even after his mother kicked him out.

"I couldn't say 'No' to my boy," she said. "He was my son."

In time, though, he'd start acting up again, and she'd have to kick him out.

"We'd find him with leaves in his hair from sleeping on people's lawns," Carol said.

Scott was admitted a few times to the county's psychiatric hospital on Watertown Plank Road in Wauwatosa. The institution would hold him for a few days on emergency detention orders, but he always promised to get treatment if officials would let him go.

"I could never convince anyone out there that Scott was in enough danger to have them keep him for more than a day or two," Carol said.

He stayed in some real hellholes -- nasty places with rats, she said.

"I'd get sick to my stomach thinking about where he lived," Carol said.

The day before he died, he had been kicked out of Guest House, a homeless shelter on N. 13th St., for violating the center's no-alcohol policy.

"He was such a sweet guy," she said, wiping back tears. "This disease ate him up."

On suicide watch

Scott was a wreck the day he arrived at the Behavioral Health Complex. He told a nurse when they admitted him that he wanted to kill himself, so they ordered the staff to check on him every 30 minutes during the night.

A nurse found him dead in bed when she came to do some blood work on him about 7:30 that morning. They found a medicine patch on his lower abdomen and four more packets of the drug in his wallet. He was lying on his stomach, with his face stuck to a magazine.

No one is really sure how he had fentanyl in there in the first place. When you're on suicide watch, the hospital staff checks your pockets before admittance. Your bathroom door and medicine cabinet are locked.

Scott's father, who was taking fentanyl at the time, visited the hospital the day before Scott died, and the two played rummy. His father told investigators for the Milwaukee County medical examiner's office that he was unsure whether Scott took any of the patches from his house the last time he visited.

Carol can never say for sure whether her son would be alive today if he had had someplace to live. But she says she saw him grow weaker and sicker the longer he lived on the streets.

The family considered suing for wrongful death but decided the stress would be too much.

"The only estate he had was his soul, and we could never get any part of that back," Carol said.

Still, she's convinced that Milwaukee could do a better job caring for people with mental illness.

Several weeks after Scott's death, his mother and sister met with Jim Hill, director of the county's Behavioral Health Division, to find out how this could have happened. They said Hill was empathetic and promised to investigate Scott's death. Christie Polk, Scott's sister, volunteered to serve on an advisory panel on improving community mental health care.

But Hill never called back, Polk said.

Hill said he can't discuss the case. Federal health care privacy laws preclude him from even confirming that Scott O'Brien was a patient there.

A few weeks ago, Carol opened Scott's wallet. It had been a year since the medical examiner's office returned it. She sobbed when she saw his driver's license and reminder cards for appointments -- more than a dozen of them -- with doctors and job counselors.

"He was trying so hard," his mother said.

Scott had a doctor's appointment for July 24. By then, it was too late.

That was the day he was cremated.

Copyright (c) 2006, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.

For reprints, email tmsreprints@permissionsgroup.com, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

High-rise fall spurs call for law: Police would need special approval before releasing anyone who might be mentally ill.

Chicago Tribune (Chicago, IL); 9/14/2006

Byline: Mickey Ciokajlo and Gary Washburn

Sep. 14--A high-ranking Chicago police official's approval would be required before a person suspected of being mentally ill could be released from custody under a proposed ordinance introduced Wednesday. The measure was in direct response to an incident in May in which a mentally ill California woman was severely injured in a fall from the seventh floor of a public housing high-rise just hours after she was released from police custody. The proposal would require an on-duty assistant deputy superintendent to sign off on the release. It would also make law the Police Department's internal policy for dealing with the mentally ill in the city's lockups. "This incorporates almost verbatim the general order that now exists in the Police Department except to the extent it raises the level of command involvement," said Ald. Edward Burke (14th), who introduced the proposal with Ald. Isaac Carothers (29th), chairman of the Police and Fire Committee. "Hopefully [it will] make the police bureaucracy sensitive to the potential for danger that a person who suffers from mental illness can confront," Burke said. The Police Department is currently conducting an internal review of its handling of Christina Eilman, 21, who was arrested May 7 after quarreling with a CTA employee at Midway Airport. Eilman, who suffers from bipolar disorder, was released the following evening from the Wentworth District headquarters at 51st Street and Wentworth Avenue despite her parents' repeated calls to warn police about her mental illness. Eilman wandered to the nearby Robert Taylor Homes and about four hours later fell from an apartment in the complex. Prosecutors allege that she was sexually assaulted, and they have charged a reputed gang leader--Marvin Powell, 23--with aggravated criminal sexual assault and unlawful restraint. Eilman's family filed a $100 million lawsuit that the city's lawyers are attempting to settle. The proposed ordinance was sent to Carothers' committee for consideration. "This safeguard would ensure that more persons who are mentally ill and in need of treatment are taken by the Police Department to a hospital where they can receive proper medical care," Carothers said. Monique Bond, spokeswoman for the Police Department, said officials are reviewing their policies as part of the investigation. "What's important is that we also reach out to the experts ... to continue to strengthen our understanding of mental illness so that our policies and procedures are clearer to follow when it comes to identifying different behavioral disorders," Bond said. Also Wednesday, Burke and Carothers introduced a proposal to create a "gun offender registry," modeled after registries used to track sex offenders. If passed, the registry would require any city resident convicted of a gun offense--such as possession of a loaded handgun or possession of an assault weapon--to register their name, address, photograph and other personal details with the city.

Failure to register would result in a fine of up to $500 and jail time of up to 6 months. Carothers predicted that the measure would deter gun crimes by allowing police to track known offenders. "This is a common-sense idea whose time has come," Carothers said. Following last month's police shooting of 14-year-old Ellis Woodland, three aldermen moved Wednesday to outlaw the sale of BB guns in the city. Police shot Woodland near the Cabrini-Green housing complex when he brandished a BB gun that looked like a handgun. The possession of BB guns is already banned in the city, but the ordinance amendment proposed by Carothers and Alds. Emma Mitts (37th) and Burton Natarus (42nd) would also outlaw their sale. Also Wednesday, Mayor Richard Daley introduced an ordinance designed to reduce combined sewer overflows into the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. The "stormwater management ordinance" would require developments of more than 15,000 square feet and parking lots larger than 7,500 square feet to manage some of the stormwater on-site. The ordinance would affect about 400 developments each year.

mciokajlo@tribune.com gwashburn@tribune.com Tribune staff reporter David Heinzmann contributed to this report

Copyright (c) 2006, Chicago Tribune

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business

For reprints, email tmsreprints@permissionsgroup.com, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

COPYRIGHT 2006 Chicago Tribune

This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan. All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group.

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