MENTALLY ILL, ASSISTED, ALONE & IN TROUBLE

December 19, 2018 at 4:30 am

An ambitious housing program offers afflicted New Yorkers a better life by moving them out of institutions and into private homes. Frontline, in partnership with ProPublica and The New York Times, investigates how this sudden independence has proven deadly. We have their findings.

Aired on December 18, 2018.

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>>> GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO
METRO FOCUS, I'M JACK FORD.
MENTALLY ILL AND LIVING ALONE,
UNDER AN AMBITIOUS HOUSING
PROGRAM.
HUNDREDS OF MENTALLY ILL NEW
YORKERS WERE PROMISED A BETTER
LIFE AS THEY MOVED OUT OF
INSTITUTIONS AND INTO PRIVATE
APARTMENTS.
FOR SOME, THIS SUDDEN SHIFT
TOWARD INDEPENDENCE HAS PROVEN
TO NOT ONLY BE DANGEROUS, BUT
DEADLY.
ALONE AND MENTALLY ILL IN NEW
YORK, PROPUBLICA AND FRONT LINE
INVESTIGATE THIS FLAWED HOUSING
SYSTEM.
>> MY NAME IS ABRAHAM BANKS JR.
I WANTED A DIFFERENT LIFE.
BEING INDEPENDENT AGAIN.
I DIDN'T NEED PEOPLE COMING
AROUND EVERY DAY OR ONCE A WEEK
BOTHERING ME.
I'M AN ADULT.
>> IT LOOKS LIKE YOU MAY HAVE AN
INFECTION OF SOME KIND IN YOUR
FINGER THERE.
>> THIS HAS GOT TO BE --
>> WHEN WAS THAT?
>> A COUPLE MONTHS BACK.
>> IT'S BEEN LIKE THAT FOR A
COUPLE MONTHS?
>> YEAH.
>> WHY DO YOU LET IT SIT OUT
LIKE THAT?
>> BECAUSE I GOT TO FEED THE
RATS.
>> DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU NEED
SOMEBODY TO HELP YOU?
>> NO.
THEY INTERFERE.
I DO IT MYSELF.
>> I DON'T TRUST HIM.
HE PUT A CHICKEN IN THE OVEN AND
HE TOTALLY FORGOT ABOUT THE
CHICKEN AND THERE WAS A LOT OF
SMOKE.
I LIVE ON THE THIRD FLOOR.
IT'S NOT ABOUT THE FIRE, BUT
ABOUT HIS HEALTH.
AIN'T NOBODY THERE WITH HIM.
>> HERE WITH MORE ON THIS
INVESTIGATION IS THE MAN WHO
BROKE THIS STORY FROM
PROPUBLICA.
>> THANKS FOR HAVING ME.
>> IT'S A POWERFUL AND THOUGHT
PROVOKING FILM.
LET'S GIVE OUR VIEWERS A SENSE
OF CONTEXT.
THIS PROGRAM AROSE OUT OF A
SETTLEMENT OF A LAWSUIT BACK IN
2014, GIVE US A QUICK SENSE OF
WHAT WAS THE BASIS OF A LAWSUIT?
>> THE LAWSUIT HAS ITS ROOTS IN
A SERIES OF STORIES THAT CAME
OUT IN THE NEW YORK TIMES IN
2002 THAT WON A BULL ITSER PRIZE
FOCUSED ON THE ADULT HOMES AND
THE CONDITIONS INSIDE THEM.
AND WHAT A REPORTER THERE FOUND
WAS THAT PEOPLE LIVING IN THESE
HOMES, THE ADULT HOMES HAD KIND
OF BEEN ENVISIONED INITIALLY AS
A MORE HUMANE ALTERNATIVE.
>> THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO BE A
STEP UP, AWAY FROM THE
WAREHOUSING AND THE ASYLUMS.
>> AND CONDITIONS WITHIN THEM
HAD DETERIORATED OVER THE YEARS,
SUCH THAT PEOPLE HAD -- WERE
REALLY NOT GETTING ANY KIND OF
MEANINGFUL PSYCHIATRIC CARE.
THERE WAS NO AIR CONDITIONING IN
SOME OF THESE ROOMS, SO PEOPLE
WOUND UP SWELTERING TO DEATH.
PEOPLE WERE THROWING THEMSELVES
OFF OF ROOFTOPS.
THEY WERE RUN BY THESE
UNSCRUPULOUS BUSINESS OPERATORS.
>> YOU READ THE STORIES, YOU
FELT YOU WERE BACK IN DICKENS
ENGLAND.
>> PEOPLE WERE BEING EXPLOITED
IN THESE HOMES.
PEOPLE HAD GOTTEN UNNECESSARY
SURGERIES.
PEOPLE COULDN'T BELIEVE THE GRIM
DETAILS THAT WERE COMING OUT OF
THESE ADULT HOMES.
>> AT ONE POINT IN TIME THEIR
DECISIONS.
TRIAL LEVEL DECISIONS.
>> SO RIGHT -- THE FOLLOWING
YEAR, IN 2003 ADVOCATES SUED THE
STATE, AND THE THOUGHT WAS THAT
MANY OF THE PEOPLE LIVING IN
THESE ADULT HOMES DID NOT NEED
TO BE UNDER 24 HOUR WATCH.
AND IN FACT THEY COULD LIVE ON
THEIR OWN IN THEIR OWN
APARTMENTS WITH THE RIGHT
SERVICES IN PLACE.
>> THAT SOUNDS LIKE A WONDERFUL
IDEA.
>> ON PAPER IT IS A WONDERFUL
IDEA.
ACCORDING TO THE LETTER OF THE
LAW, IT'S SOMETHING WE HAVE TO
FOLLOW.
PEOPLE ARE -- PEOPLE WITH
DISABILITIES UNDER THE AMERICAN
DISABILITIES ACT ARE -- HAVE THE
RIGHT TO LIVE IN THE LEAST
RESTRICTIVE SETTING, WITH
ADEQUATE SUPPORT, IT'S THAT
SECOND PART THAT IS SO CRUCIAL
AND SO DIFFICULT TO GET RIGHT.
AND THAT'S WHAT WE FOUND WAS
REALLY LACKING IN MANY OF THESE
ALARMING CASES THAT WE
DISCOVERED.
>> TELL ME ABOUT SOME OF THE
MOST CRITICAL AND DISTURBING
FINDINGS.
>> WELL, SO WHAT WE FOUND WAS
THAT THERE WAS ABOUT TWO DOZEN
OR SO PEOPLE WHO WERE LIVING IN
UNSAFE OR INHUMANE CONDITIONS.
ONE OF THE WORST CASES THAT WE
DISCOVERED WAS THAT OF ABRAHAM
CLEMENTE.
A 69-YEAR-OLD MAN WHO HAS
SCHIZOPHRENIA AND HAD LIVED MOST
OF HIS LIFE IN INSTITUTIONS
BEFORE GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY TO
LIVE IN HIS OWN APARTMENT.
HE WAS LIVING IN, AS YOU CAN
SIGH IN THE FILM, JUST ABSOLUTE
SQUALOR.
>> IT'S HARD TO WATCH IN SOME --
>> IT'S HARD TO REPORT ON.
>> I IMAGINE.
>> IT WAS HEART BREAKING.
I MEAN, HE -- YOU KNOW, THE
APARTMENT WAS SWARMING WITH
INSECTS.
THERE'S ROTTING GARBAGE ALL OVER
THE PLACE.
HE CLEARLY WAS INCONSISTENT WITH
HIS MEDICATION REGIMENT.
HE HAD BEEN HOSTILE TOWARD THE
PEOPLE THAT WERE TRYING TO HELP
HIM, TO SUCH AN EXTENT THAT THEY
ALL BUT GAVE UP.
HE REALLY SCARED HIS NEIGHBORS
WHO FELT LIKE, YOU KNOW, SORT OF
EARLY ON IN HIS EXPERIENCE, HE
WAS DOING OKAY, BUT HE GRADUALLY
DECLINED AND IT SEEMED AS THOUGH
THE PEOPLE DESIGNED TO HELP HIM
WERE POWERLESS TO MEANINGFULLY
INTERVENE.
>> WAS THIS A SITUATION?
THIS MIGHT SOUND LIKE A SIMPLE
EITHER/OR ABOUT WAS THIS A
SITUATION WHERE MR. CLEMENTE WAS
NOT THE RIGHT CANDIDATE TO MOVE
OUT ON HIS OWN.
IT WAS NOT THE CORRECT FOLLOW-UP
CARE TO MAKE SURE TO SHEPPARD
HIM ALONG ON THAT PATH?
>> I'LL SAY THIS.
THERE ARE DOCUMENTS THAT SHOW
PEOPLE WHO WERE HELPING HIM WITH
HIS MEDICAL CARE WHILE HE WAS
LIVING IN THE ADULT HOME.
WE'RE VERY CONCERNED ABOUT HIS
ABILITY TO FUNCTION ON HIS OWN.
HE SEEMED TO HAVE NO REAL
INTEREST IN MASTERING HIS OWN
MEDICATION REGIMENT FOR ONE
THING.
THE AGENCY THAT WAS HELPING HIM
WITH THAT CARE SAID, WE CAN'T
SAFELY PROVIDE SUPPORT TO THIS
PERSON IN HIS OWN APARTMENT.
THERE WERE CERTAINLY WARNING
SIGNS.
BUT PEOPLE WHO DO THIS WORK
BELIEVE THAT VIRTUALLY ANYONE
WITH MENTAL ILLNESS CAN LIVE IN
THEIR OWN APARTMENT, SO LONG AS
YOU HAVE THE PROPER SUPPORTS IN
PLACE.
ON PAPER, EACH PAPER THAT LEAVES
AN ADULT HOME AND MOVES INTO
THEIR APARTMENT IS SUPPOSED TO
HAVE A HIGHLY PROFESSIONAL,
HIGHLY COORDINATED TEAM OF
PEOPLE WITH THEIR OWN DISTINCT
EXPERTISE THAT CAN HELP THIS
BURN MAKE THIS DRAMATIC SHIFT IN
THEIR LIFE.
WHAT WE HAVE FOUND IS THAT THAT
PROMISE ON PAPER HAS NOT MET THE
REALITY OF PEOPLE LIKE ABRAHAM.
>> IT'S A THOUGHT PROVOKING
FILM.
IT'S MARVELOUS REPORTING BY YOU.
IT'S DOING WHAT GOOD JOURNALISM
DOES, WHICH IS SHINING A LIGHT
ON THINGS WE NEED TO KNOW MORE
ABOUT, AND HOPEFULLY IT'S GOING
TO RESULT IN SOME PROGRESS.
GREAT REPORTING.
VERY COMPELLING FILM, WE
APPRECIATE YOU SPENDING TIME
WITH US.
>> THANKS SO MUCH.
HAPPY TO BE HERE.

Mutual of America PSEG

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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