By: Maria Mangicaro
Tampa, FL: “Neglected to Death” is an excellent three-part series by reporters from The Miami Herald calling attention to the shocking abuse and negligence in Florida’s assisted living facilities (ALFs). The year-long investigation exposes a critical breakdown in the state’s enforcement system that has left thousands exposed to abuse and neglect while living in dangerous and decrepit conditions. The report also points out the over-use of psychiatric medications on residents living in Florida’s ALFs. Florida’s 2009 state-wide investigation into the suicide death of 7-year old Gabriel Myers also pointed to the over use of psychiatric medications on children in foster care.
Click here to read “Neglected to Death”.
ALFs were established over 25 years ago in landmark legislation to provide protection, shelter and care for the elderly, infirm and individuals with symptoms of mental illness - some of Florida’s most vulnerable citizens.
The 1988 landmark civil rights case that challenged the conditions of Florida’s mental health institutions was Sanbourne v. Chiles. Deidra Sanbourne, named as the plaintiff in the case, spent nearly twenty years being treated in Florida’s state mental hospitals.
A Google search on Deidra’s name will result in dozens of sites listing this statement under a review for author Pete Earley’s book Crazy: A Father’s Search through America’s Mental Health Madness:
“He learns that Deidra Sanbourne, whose 1988 deinstitutionalization was a landmark civil rights case, died after being neglected in a boarding house.”
This 2007 document created by the state of Florida has a similar statement and cites the book Crazy as its source:
Transforming Florida’s Mental Health System; CONSTRUCTING A COMPREHENSIVE AND COMPETENT CRIMINAL JUSTICE/MENTAL HEALTH/SUBSTANCE ABUSE TREATMENT SYSTEM: Strategies for Planning, Leadership, Financing, and Service Development
“While Deidra Sanbourne was released from the confines of the state hospital after 20 years of institutionalization, she later died at the age of 57 after being neglected in a boarding home (Early, 2006).”
Although The Miami Herald investigation does reveal many deaths that can be attributed to the neglect in Florida’s ALFs, Diedra Sanbourne’s death, as reported in the book Crazy, occurred from a bowel obstruction while being treated in a psychiatric unit at Westchester General Hospital and not from neglect in a boarding home.
Deidra Sanbourne: A Fight For Dignity
This video documentary of Deidra’s life was a student’s assignment for a Psychosocial Rehabilitation class and also claims her death was from a bowel obstruction while being treated in a psychiatric unit of a Florida hospital.
Deidra’s symptoms were diagnosed as schizoaffective disorder and she spent over 20 years being treated unsuccessfully in psychiatric wards. When I read the fact the cause of her death was from a bowel obstruction I immediately considered the possibility that a psychiatric medication prescribed to Deidra could have caused the bowel obstruction that led to her death.
A quick search on Medline revealed the medication Clozapine is used to treat severe
cases of schizophrenia. Clinical research suggests Clozapine has caused bowel
obstructions leading to death in individuals being treated for symptoms described as schizophrenia.
Deidra Sanbourne could very well have died from the psychiatric medication she was administered while being treated for her symptoms of schizophrenia under the care of medical professionals, and not the result of neglect while living in an assisted living facility.
Pete Earley is a former Washington Post reporter, the author of over ten books and a fierce mental health advocate who has contributed greatly to exposing problems within the criminal justice system. I have read through his book Crazy several times and make an effort to read Mr. Earley’s blog and listen to his online presentations.
As an ethical journalist, Mr. Earley does not believe in joining groups or organizations in order to be independent and stay objective, however he immediately joined the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) after he finished writing Crazy and claims NAMI has “changed” his life.
Although the New York Times published a story regarding NAMI receiving $23 million from drug makers between 2006 to 2008, Mr. Earley refutes claims that the pharmaceutical industry influences NAMI and wrote a post on his blog “NAMI and Drug Makers’ $$$” that included this statement: “I don’t believe for a second that drug makers control NAMI and, if I did, I would resign from it.”
He also wrote about his experience as a NAMI member: ”Nearly all of our members are parents, just like me, who — if anything – are skeptical of the drugs that their loved ones take because they know about weight gain, diabetes and other worrisome side effects.”
Psychiatric medications have many harmful and even lethal side effects. Far too often there is a failure to warn mental health consumers, parents or caregivers of the potential harmful side effects, or to recognize the underlying factors that can contribute to mental health symptoms.
I find it very troublesome that Mr. Earley promotes strongly the use of psychiatric medications, yet gives little acknowledgement of the harmful side effects and withdrawal complications in the information he disseminates through his book, website, blog and lectures.
Mr. Earley admits to receiving dozens of emails each week from individuals who have read CRAZY, and are “frustrated and desperate for help.” Being “frustrated and desperate for help” can create vulnerability and as an investigative journalist, parent and NAMI supporter, Mr. Earley has the appeal of a trustworthy source for information and guidance.
This 2007 Journal of the American Medical Association book review, along with other comments on Amazon.com, indicate Crazy is being used as an educational tool for those in the mental health profession, including nurses and psychiatrists:
“Crazy offers a unique and sensitive perspective on questions America is reluctant to address. It should be required reading for psychiatry residents, forensic fellows, and any psychiatrist”: JAMA 2007
Crazy has also been reviewed as a “must read” for every parent whose child becomes labeled “mentally ill”.
Because of the impact Crazy has developed in both the mental health care and criminal justice systems, this book deserves close scrutiny.
Mr. Earley writes, “In investigating Sanbourne’s life and death, I had discovered an ugly truth.” (Crazy p.207)
NAMI’s book review of Crazy states: “Earley also investigates the fate of Deidra Sanbourne, whose class action lawsuit against the State of Florida caused her to be released from a state hospital after 20 years, and uncovers “an ugly truth.” After being warehoused for 20 years in a state hospital, Sanbourne ended up warehoused in a squalid boarding home, where her condition only worsened, until her death. It is that truth to which the book speaks.”
If Deidra’s death was a result of the medication Clozapine, readers of Crazy deserve to know the whole “ugly truth” and not be misled to a prescription for death.
Kim Crespi is a member of ISEPP and has attended the Annual Conferences. She is a strong victim’s advocate as her husband, David Crespi, is currently serving two life sentences in North Carolina for the killing of their twin five-year-old daughters in January of 2006.
After having in-depth conversations with Kim and listening to the 911 call from David, there is no doubt in my mind that David’s psychotic state at the time of the incident was a result of suffering from a Substance Induced Psychosis that was caused by prescribed psychiatric medications. Click here to read “Despite the Slaying: Psychiatry’s Indifference toward Drug-Induced Psychosis and Crime.”
The many cases like that of David Crespi are ones being ignored by mental health advocates like Mr. Earley.
For individuals interested in learning more about alternatives to the use of psychiatric medications, I strongly suggest learning more about ISEPP’s 2011 conference: Alternatives to Biological Psychiatry: If we don’t medicate, what do we do? at:
ISEPP is an independent not-for-profit organization which currently takes no monies from external sources.