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Santa Cruz Mental Hospital Under Investigation After Tragic Incident

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RR SC MENTAL INVESTIGATION 2016

Sean Arlt, a 32-year-old mentally ill dad was shot dead. Image source: The Mercury News

Several cases of people with mental health disorders clashing with law enforcement officials have occurred in the Santa Cruz Mental Hospital, but the most recent episode has led authorities to place the hospital under investigation.

Sean Arlt, a 32-year-old mentally ill dad was shot dead in the chest and head, in a confrontation with four police officers. The incident occurred in Chace Street; the very place police officers subdued him in a similar incident just a week earlier.

Santa Cruz residents on November 1 came together at the United Church of Christ to reflect on how such a horrible incident could occur. The reflected on just how possible it was that at 3 a.m. on October 16, under very heavy rains, four well-trained police officers will shoot and kill the mental patient while he confronted them with a metal bow rake, instead of disarming and neutralizing him.

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Major Concerns

Adequate answers to the worries of Santa Cruz residents over the death of Arlt may never be found. And while the November 1 deliberations were held, some people had bigger problems to pose; why would it be the police to embark on the de-escalation of seriously unpredictable mental health emergencies when they are medical and not law enforcement problems? What then is the role of health and human services in the United States?

According to Carol Williamson, president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in the Santa Cruz County, a severe shortage of mental caregivers continuously leads to mentally sick people getting back into the streets, sometimes still in very bad conditions. That may have been the case with Arlt. The alliance president noted that mentally sick people in the county get released when they’re not fully stabilized. Some of them do not even get the chance to be admitted in facilities because of strict criteria put in place by the medical centers; criteria too strict to be met by some of the patients.

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Another problem according to Williamson is the fact that mental health care providers know exactly what to do attending to patients, but just don’t do enough of it. Access to a doctor, therapist or community program as well as outpatient and inpatient treatment programs; getting a safe place to live; getting family and community support; symptom management education, and financial management are just a few other problems identified by Williamson.

As investigations continue into the Santa Cruz case, the county and pretty much the nation will unfortunately have to continue dealing with police interventions. Just three days after Arlt was killed, a New York police officer reportedly shot a 66 year old mentally sick woman. Carol Williamson recommends more training and vigilance from law enforcement officers handling such situations and hope to see no more tragedies caused by face-offs between mental health patients and the police.

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