Stabbing death: Another victim of Oregon’s broken mental health system

Opinion editorial by Jason Renaud, published in The Oregonian, November 12 2008

The judge will say Joseph Rockwood is guilty but insane. That verdict will try to shut the door on the pathetic and predictable death of his sister. But Theresa Rockwood’s death will haunt those dependent on Oregon’s broken mental health service delivery system.

For people dependent on services from agencies such as Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare that door remains wide open.

Is Joe Rockwood guilty? Yes and no. Is he accountable? He will assuredly spend the rest of his life locked up, and ironically receiving the medical treatment he sorely missed.

But will judging Joseph make amends for his crime? No.

So who bears responsibility for the death of Theresa Rockwood?

The Oregon Legislature.

That our ‘system’ is broken is undeniable. It’s been broken for decades. That our ‘system’ attempts to provide direct and essential services for thousands is a fact. That tens of thousands of family members, friends, neighbors and colleagues, depend on capable and competent services being available. Our courts, our hospitals, our primary care clinics, our police, and our city and county managers also depend on these services.

The financial cost of not providing capable and competent services far outweigh the cost of providing services.

But the political cost of doing little and less is negligible.

For decades the Oregon State Legislature has evaded responsibility to fund these services. They’ve cut budgets in good times and bad. They’ve ignored fair warnings from impartial observers. They’ve plead and proven ignorance and disdained education.

Local governments share in the responsibility here, but our state legislators need to be held directly accountable for pathetic and predictable tragedies like the death of Theresa Rockwood.

Renaud represents the Mental Health Association of Portland, www.mentalhealthportland.org