MENTALLY ILL, ASSISTED, ALONE & IN TROUBLE

Encore: April 30, 2021

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.

TRANSCRIPT

> 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.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, The Peter G. Peterson and Joan Ganz Cooney Fund, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, The Ambrose Monell Foundation, Janet Prindle Seidler, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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