EBR on track to break unwanted record of involuntary mental health commitments

The Charles Family

The Charles Family

From Chris Nakamoto, WBRZ News

BATON ROUGE - East Baton Rouge Parish is on pace to break a record number of "OPC's" which stands for orders of protective custody, according to the East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner's Office. 

Dr. Beau Clark believes the closure of Earl K. Long in recent years and the closure of Baton Rouge General Midcity has left people with mental health issues with no place to go and no options for help. 

In 2017, there were 1090 OPC's. With more than a month to go of 2018, there have been 1036 as of Wednesday. 

"What we've ended up doing as a community and as a society is taking those individuals and they spend time in the emergency departments," Dr. Clark said. "...What we've done is reinstitutionalize the mentally ill in our prison system, and prisons are not the appropriate place to deliver healthcare to the mentally ill."

Boyd Charles knows all too well about the effect of mental illness on a family. He loves his son Michael more than life itself. Charles said when Michael was 13 he began exhibiting signs of mental illness. 

"His eating habits," Charles recalled. "If you touched his food, you may as well throw it in the garbage. Even if where he was eating, and you touched it on the other side, you couldn't touch his plate. He was doing weird stuff and now we understand it was symptoms coming out."

Michael was diagnosed with Schizophrenia and paranoia according to his dad. Medicine helped him immensely until he stopped taking it a year ago. Charles said he got scared recently when Michael approached him with a knife after he wouldn't give his son his debit card to purchase an energy drink. When Michael put the knife down, he punched his dad cracking three of his ribs. 

"There was no way I could defend myself against him," Charles said. 

That's when he called police, and his son was arrested. Charles said he is relieved his son is in a safe place but believes jail is not the right place for him. 

Late Wednesday afternoon, WBRZ got word that Charles was moved from the jail into a mental health facility after District Attorney Hillar Moore's office got involved. As the Charles family gets ready for Thanksgiving, they are grateful their son is safe but wish there were more services for those battling the problem. 

"It's really been traumatic for us," Charles said. "We've had him this long and we miss him. It hurts."

Next month, voters will have an opportunity to decide on whether increased services are necessary for the mentally ill. A 1.5 mill property tax is on the ballot which would create a mental health stabilization center to treat those with problems. It's on the ballot on December 8, 2018.

Phillip LaFargue