Posted in Albinism, Blindness, and Me, Pondering about PTSD

The Baker Act, The Extra Crispy Reality of the Mental Health System in Florida

Recently, a situation occurred in which I lost my job at the Happiest Place on Earth. A childhood dream three years in the making tossed away due to some unfortunate circumstances. Although I was told I could pursue to get my job back, I haven’t been myself lately. Knowing what I moved down here for  that was taken away from me has set me into panic mode. What do I do with my life now?

My first day mouseless led to a hot rush of job apps and resume cleaning, visits to the library and asking every place I go to about their openings. Although I have been active in finding work, my depressed brain has been playing out every worse case scenario in the book. None in which led to what happened the other day.

I woke up to a knock on my door and was greeted by two police officers, saying a welfare check was called in on me. Half asleep with no meds in me, I was rather confused, scared, and surprised. I explained I was depressed due to job loss but have plans to see my therapist and that my cousin who was in town was coming home from visiting the local theme parks, so I wasn’t alone. I explained I’m not suicidal, but the one officer looked at my dancing eyes and didn’t take my answer seriously. Apparently, nystagmus is a drawback when it comes to dealing with the men in blue, since it could mean anything from lying to drug use, none of which applied to me. 

Next thing you know, I was explained that I would be Baker Acted, a law here in Florida where a cop can make a decision as to whether or not you could be trusted as a non-threat to yourself or society. This involved a scary ride handcuffed in the back of a cop car, your personal belongings taken away including your cell phone and wallet, and being tossed into the never-ending wait for a doctor visit to plead your case as to whether or not you can be released. There is no bail to pay or a request for someone to take custody of you. There is no way to get your freedom back without an insane amount of wait to see a doctor. 

I walked into Intake in an all male filled room with only one receptionist and no orderlies around 1pn, didn’t get out into a holding area until 9pm, and didn’t get a bed, the only thing keeping me from seeing a doctor, until 5:45am the next day. An almost 15 hour wait just to be scheduled to see the man who chooses your destiny. 

In holding, I finally met a few females who were hiding from the men in the waiting area, in fear of some men who were trying to masturbate to them and making sly remarks. I was fortunate to be placed in an observation room with two other girls, each of us had a spongey mattress to ourselves. A safe place from a rather tough environment. The girls were sent to other facilities, mostly drug rehabs or the facility’s non-insurance asylum on the other side of town, where they would have to go through the intake process all over again.When one left, a new girl came in. I found comfort in them, as they only sent in peaceful people in the observation rooms.

Across from our area held the more violent of patients, one peek into the hallway or the window near the phone revealed the scary things that play out in the psyche ward, the Hannibal Lector-esque of restraints holding the loudest most disturbed of patients one can think of. The sound of nightmares that days later still haunt me. A girl waiting for a room was asking for her seizure meds but being ignored, resulting in a rather violent siezure in the hallway, a mental image I can never get out of my head. The requests for her needs being ignored, all because a bed was required to see a doctor. To see her fall broke my heart, knowing the lack of care to her in her worst moment resulted in something nobody should ever go through. 

I finally found my way upstairs in the insurance approved wards 15 minutes before wake up, their day scheduled out like a millitary ran boot camp, two people per room, a bare day room with nothing but a TV and water in a pitcher, and a cafeteria. 6am was hygene time, everyone’s bathrooms locked at night unlocked for a half hour, granting access to the comfort of a shower, which in my case was cold. 7am was breakfast, served in prison like trays with sporks. Pancakes and sausage became a McGriddle since the spork couldn’t cut it, much less hold the food.

I was told I could go back to bed, while many who have been there for days were locked out of their rooms as a way to funnel them in the bare day room. No board games, no crayons, no bingo, nothing. Patients paced the hallways shouting and chanting amongst themselves. Nobody was coherent, locked inside their minds or over medicated. I was lucky to have a roommate who slept a lot and was also deaf. I thought I could enjoy the silence in the confines of my bed but I was wrong. Lab work, therapist meetings, phone calls from RJ, the only friend who I could get in contact with since his number I knew by heart, and my parents whom he got in contact with. Each time I walked out of the hallway, I was greeted to the sounds of girls crying to be let into their rooms, not a single orderly approving their request.

I finally was able to get to the doctor who finally took me seriously enough to let me be discharged. The answer to my prayers as they handed me the pajamas I came in wearing. To see me in street clothes met with a barrage of patients crying to go home, cussing me out because I was soon going to be reunited with the outside world.

While doing my paperwork, I asked a variety of questions to the receptionist, and here is what I learned.

-They only do one hour of fun recreational time a day before lunch, the only time fun things like games and coloring books come out.

-Groups happen two to three times a day, many vary from drug addiction support groups to group therapy with the occausional music or exercise class. 

-The longest resident in the ward has been there for over a month. The average stay is three days to a week.

Knowing how the day was scheduled, I couldn’t imagine me lasting another day without some form of sensory imput. The walls white, the lighting fluorescent, the chanting of the zoned out patient disturbing and upsetting, knowing a person who means something is locked inside waiting to be free. 

I was soon escorted out to the pharmacy so I can pick up my medication, RJ was a welcome sight as I walked into the nicely decorated front lobby, the sun shining through the big windows, the colorful furniture, the smells of food from the downstairs cafe, and the strong arms of the person who helped me through all this holding me. I was free.

The results of this affair made me fear the cops, thinking that they can take you away at any moment, my eyes an easy target to be snatched and taken back to the place I wouldn’t wish my worst enemy to ever wind up in. The system here isn’t treated with dignity like in other states, where emergency rooms and the comfort of a hospital bed your waiting area until you find placement,the decency of an ambulance ride unhandcuffed, your personal belongings taken away moments before you’re placed in a room instead of right away, the day rooms colorful and full of happy distractions. The opportunity to sign yourself out or have family to sign you out on your behalf. The empathy of the orderlies, which although I had a few nice ones during my recent stint, were few and far in between. Other states handle mental health with dignity. Florida does not.

I will forever be haunted of those almost 22 hours spent held against my will. No amount of therapy will ever make that go away.

Florida needs to reconsider the way such cases are held. Mental illness is made worse by the Baker Act, not made better. Empathy and understanding are key to treating mental illness. Needless to say this state is years behind in services and care for those in need of them.I can only hope the system evolves to something more productive and proactive. A system of understanding and care. The mentally ill have a right to be treated with dignity, not a prisoner of their own free will. I can only hope those I met inside the walls of the ward will one day find peace and comfort and the care they need. 

Things need to change. And soon. 

More information on this law can be found here

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florida_Mental_Health_Act

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3 thoughts on “The Baker Act, The Extra Crispy Reality of the Mental Health System in Florida

  1. HOLY CRAP!! That’s awful!! I just have no words but am SO angry right now. So they took you in based on their assessment that you were on something because of your eyes and no one figured out that your eyes look the way they do because you are legally blind?? :-O

    I am sharing this on my Facebook page and asking everyone to share it. This is SO not right. Have you considered suing?? p[]’

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  2. The Baker Act itself is Federal Law, obviously how different places use and abuse it however are a very different thing. That Florida treated you so horribly does not really surprise me. It’s a lovely place, nice to visit in small doses, but when you see past Celebration, The Mouse, and all the other glitz, there is a truly horrific underpinning that sees people as, well not people in general. Those of us with any kind of health issues, well then it gets really ugly.

    That said, it wasn’t much better in December of 2005 well north of Florida. I was going through my own kind of hell, had not yet been diagnosed as autistic (I still was, just hadn’t been officially diagnosed) and had started the day full of promise. It was Christmas Eve, Eve. I’d gone down to the local Social Security office where I had a disability application pending for the things that I did have firm diagnoses for, and was there to deliver some paperwork to get the process for a new Social Security Number started because my now late husband and his parents were stalking me and had repeatedly stated for all to hear, their intent to murder me instead of our divorce going through.

    The woman at the SSA traumatized me so badly I fought to stay alive long enough to get to my therapists office. I was in full meltdown mode as I walked into the waiting room, curled up in a corner, surrounded myself with a pile of chairs (I basically built a chair fort) and sat there rocking, crying, and sobbing. My therapist had already left for the day, but one of the other therapists came out, and spent a few hours talking me down, and giving me a choice, if I wanted she could get me a bed in the hospital, or I could go home, take more tranquilizers (I’d already had two so far) and rest.

    So homes I went with instructions to take my tranquilizers every four hours until after the holiday and then I could see my Pdoc the following Monday (It was Friday) to see if things needed to be adjusted more. I made it home, but my traumatized mind was perseverating and I called the SSA toll free number to ask what I had done wrong. Mind you, I was in such bad shape, that clearly it had to be my fault, I mean everything was my fault back then after a lifetime of domestic violence.

    I did not know then that without proper self care and a period of rest, even with lots of tranqs in me, I could fall over the edge into another meltdown. Mind you, I’m female, and a survivor of decades of domestic violence, so my meltdowns are of the crying, sobbing, hysterical curled up in a ball in a corner kind. Not at all violent or a danger to myself or anyone else. So here I am trying to get some simple answers, and this woman is talking to me right up until I see reds and blues outside the window and a knock on the door, I asked her if she could hold (I had stopped crying and so forth in fear of police at the door) and she said she wanted to talk to the cop. So I opened the door and said “I have no idea what’s going on officer, but the woman I’m talking to wants to talk to you and handed him the phone. He spoke to her, hung up handed me my phone and said:

    “I’m not really certain what’s going on miss, but the woman you were talking to called us. There is an ambulance coming but it’s stuck in traffic, so we can either wait, or you can willingly come with me and I can call off the ambulance. If you go willingly, you might get out in before Christmas, but if we have to wait for the ambulance, you’ll be held pending a meeting with the magistrate, and he’s out of town until the first week of January. What would you like to do? Either way, you are going to the hospital.” He started to explain the Baker Act and I assured him I knew what it was, grabbed my purse, keys, and phone and said “Come on, I’ll show you the back way to the hospital so you can avoid the traffic.

    He patiently explained he was a local cop, born and raised, and there was no back way that would save time and avoid traffic. I asked him to trust me and said that worst thing that happens is we have to turn around and go the traffic way. So off we went, and sure enough, I showed him the back way that he didn’t know, that dropped us right at the hospital.

    They held me until I could be evaluated by a doctor from their crisis team, very confused about the entire thing, and my sister-in-law/roommate showed up and by then it was 2 in the morning, but they let me go home. I still live in fear of being taken away, but now I have diagnoses and a carry letter from my doctor explaining what not to do to me, to keep (I hope) authority figures from overreacting. I also have a wallet card that explains I’m autistic and is a short form version of my doctor’s letter.

    Am I any less terrified of being held captive again all these years later? No, of course not, especially the way things have only gotten worse for those of us who are at all different. Clearly, your situation was way more horrific for obvious reasons, that said, we are all at risk, and for no reason other than it’s easier to “bag and tag” us than it is to actually find out what’s going on and make an intelligent decision on the scene. The bright side in this is neither of us were shot, which more and more police are resorting to these days instead of bagging and tagging.

    We live in a sad, scary world.

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  3. I had a very similar situation at exactly the same place. It took four days before the doctor who saw me, could get in touch with my doctor, whom he knew and they would release me. I was afraid for my life, and definitely traumatized by the experience.

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