Rokeberg’s API plan fills university and community needs

First, Rep. Norm Rokeberg (R-Anch) set forth a bill giving Alaskans rights in medical disagreements with insurance companies, the “Patient's Bill of Rights,” which was signed into law in June. Now, he has introduced bills that would fund the practically defunct Alaska Psychiatric Institute, proving that he can make a lasting difference in some major areas of Alaskans.

These current bills (HB 76 and 77) would help build a replacement hospital and institute a new forensics wing. This should be good news to researching students and families of the mentally ill.

At a recent nursing health fair on campus, students got to see the need for help, both in the psychiatric and medical fields. The strongest take home was that people need caregivers more than ever, especially with an aging Baby Boomer population.

Thankfully, shutting down our across-the-street neighbor, API, set on some 80 acres, and downsizing it even further by moving it to Charter North Hospital, was one that at least the NIMBY (not in my back yard) folks fought.

Rokeberg took this fight further, though, and should be commended.

Excellent mental health care for both severely mentally ill and criminal mentally ill patients should be done instate. Not only does this provide training and jobs for our state's workers, but keeping the mentally ill instate makes it so people can visit their sick relatives and friends.

"This legislation is aimed at making sure that the new API not only provides the best level of direct services to patients, but also brings spin-off benefits for a much wider range of Alaskans," Rokeberg said in a recent press release.

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Rokeberg supports the idea of a new medical “campus,” bridging UAA's Health Sciences and the offices of the Municipiality's Department of Health and Human Services at API. The idea alone is worthy of money and thought.

Rokeberg also states that "API is not a place to warehouse the mentally ill.” Families with mentally ill members would likely agree with Rokeberg. They need actual help.

API has reduced the number of its beds to under 100 over the years, though the size of the hospital indicates that it could serve far more clients. The yards are empty when there were once people often seen walking about outside, getting fresh air. Are we to believe all these people have been cured? What then explains the mental health nursing shortage in our state?

Since the 1980s, we have developed big words for the downsizing of mental health services to save the state money: “Deinstitutionalizing” is one of them. It meant that the mentally ill would get to see how life worked on the outside and see if they could cope with less care. We learned that many could not. We also found that the homeless mentally ill did not follow up on badly needed treatment, putting others and themselves in danger.

Rokeberg's bills could help. Currently, both House bills sit in the Health, Education and Social Services Committee, awaiting action.