ASSMCA’s stumbling blocks come to light in transition hearings: Lack of gov’t support

By The Star Staff

The head of the Mental Health and Anti-Addiction Services Administration (ASSMCA by its Spanish initials) expressed frustration Wednesday over the island government’s refusal to approve laws that could facilitate the agency’s work, difficulties in fulfilling requirements for the accreditation of hospitals because of a lack of funding and the high number of abandoned mental patients at the agency’s General Psychiatric Hospital.

ASSMCA Administrator Suzanne Roig Fuertes noted that the area of mental health continues to be a challenge because the agency’s limited budget often is a roadblock in fulfilling requirements to maintain the accreditation of hospitals.

The General Psychiatric Hospital, one of three belonging to the ASSMCA, is trying to obtain Medicare accreditation in order to obtain more funding but the main problem affecting the facility is the so-called resident patients, who are those who have been hospitalized for between six months and six years. These patients have often been abandoned, the administrator said during a government transition committee hearing.

“They occupy 82 percent of the beds available and can not be charged,” Roig Fuertes said. “The alternative for these patients are beds in homes contracted by the agency. As part of the strategy, the recovery program was established and we have moved hundreds of patients to homes financed by ASSMCA.”

In the homes program, however, very few patients can cover 100 percent of their care costs, she said.

“Some patients cover 25 percent, 50 percent,” Roig Fuertes said. “Those who are in the hospital are [there] because they do not have any economic resources to be able to sustain the care that involves transferring them to a home.”

Roig Fuertes also described the problems associated with Law 80, which prohibits the unjust dismissal of employees, because she is not allowed to exclude essential staff from the law.

“A large part of these personnel are nurses and direct service personnel from hospitals and other services provided by the agency,” she said. “Contrary to previous laws, they allowed one to exclude essential personnel, because I cannot restore them. If I don’t have nurses for four years, how am I going to let someone go because he or she goes against what I’m discussing and what I need. And this law does not grant that privilege to the agencies.”

The ASSMCA administrator also complained that laws that would help the agency deal with drug addiction were not approved, such as House Bill 2546, which would establish a watch system on overdoses. Another was House Bill 2167, which would establish a monitoring system for controlled medication or those that require a prescription to stop certain individuals from buying prescribed drugs and selling them on the streets.

Senate Bill 1906 would have declared ASSMCA the entity in charge of monitoring suicides and creating a monitoring system.

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