Many of us have been following the story of Claudia Ruiz over the last several days. It is one of heartbreak and tragedy. As I write this, a body found near Emma – within a few miles of where Mrs. Ruiz was reportedly last seen exiting a RFTA bus has been identified as that of Mrs. Ruiz.
Being the family member or loved one of missing person, particularly one with a mental illness is a hellish ordeal and this one has ended tragically.
I am sure the family of Mrs. Ruiz has been in agony for the past week — waiting and wondering. Not knowing is pure torture. You hope and pray for your loved one, but other than talking with the media, posting flyers and waiting for the phone to ring, there is frustratingly little you can do to effect the outcome.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) those with mental illness cannot always communicate their thoughts clearly. Confused, they will retreat. Often, particularly when prescribed medication is not taken as directed, judgement is impaired. Sometimes those with mental illness who leave family and friends become homeless or missing for years, leaving behind loved ones desperate for their return or to know they are safe.
To many families dealing with a missing loved one with mental illness can feel like being in a giant maze when all potential routes are blocked. The person can be reported as missing to local authorities. After three days, the family may request that they be placed on the FBI’s National Computer as an “endangered adult.” However, if found, the police cannot detain an adult who is over 21 who has not committed a crime. The individual cannot be forced to seek medical care unless they have a guardian or a court order. Often, after they are contacted and the family given some hope, the individual is gone again.
“. . . by then it’s too late.”
A recent case in New York highlights this problem. Twenty year-old college student Richard Ghany, left his home in Huguenot, N.Y. April 17. About a week later he was found in Seattle, Washington. Apparently he withdrew funds from a joint bank account with his parents, prompting notification from the bank. Ghany has been diagnosed with schizophrenia but is refusing to return home or seek medical help. According to the story which appeared on www.SILive.com, his mother, Lori Ghany states he is not lucid and needs help. However, until he is a danger to himself or to others, that help will not arrive and as his mother stated “. . . by then it’s too late.”
Another hurdle is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), well known to those of us who have worked in healthcare. A federal law designed to protect the privacy of individuals, it stands as a roadblock for many families to locating or knowing the condition of their loved one. HIPPA prevents doctors and hospitals from releasing information unless specific permission is granted or under very narrow special circumstances.
In searching for a missing person, a hospital may not be able to tell the family that the individual is in the facility. According the U.S. Department of Health and Human website, health facilities are permitted to say whether a person is a facility and their general condition. However, an individual can choose whether they want this information released. Often those with mental illness refuse release of this information leaving family members in the dark.
Doris Fuller, Executive Director of Treatment Advocacy Center recounted an incident in a Virginia emergency room in which a physician refused to let Ms. Fuller’s daughter sign the authorization to release information to Ms. Fuller. His reason? Because of Ms Fuller’s daughter’s disordered thinking, and experience as a psychiatric patient she was incapable of releasing the information. Therefore, the physician was essentially leaving the decisions of what was best for her care up to her mentally ill daughter . . . in her state of disordered thinking. It simply defy’s logic. Perhaps it is time for a change.
My thoughts and prayers go out to the Ruiz family. No one should have to go through what they have been through.
If you would like to make a donation to the family, an account in Claudia’s name has been set up at Alpine Bank.
Below are some resources within the Roaring Fork valley for those suffering from and/or dealing with mental health issues.
Aspen Hope Center 970-925-5858
Mind Springs Health 888-207-4004
Roaring Fork NAMI: 970-618-7770, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Post Independent April 3, 2014