Task force: Vinita's a 'dumping grounds'

Monday, December 24th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

VINITA, Okla. (AP) _ Officials in Vinita are critical of an investigation by Oklahoma's mental health director that concluded the shooting death of a former Eastern State Hospital patient who had earlier shot and killed a nurse was unrelated to the hospital's downsizing.

Keith Mackey, chairman of a task force that is seeking ways to deal with Eastern State's displaced former patients, and other officials are puzzled at how the investigation was conducted when they know of no one in the community who talked with mental health director Terry Cline.

``It was like the governor just waved his hand and dismissed it,'' Mackey said. He said it has left the community feeling like ``we've been abandoned and told to deal with it.''

Mackey fears Vinita and those struggling with mental illness ``will just have to wait it out until the next administration'' before they see any relief.

The Committee for Community Health Care and Safety was formed shortly after Ricky Martin, a former Eastern State patient diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, walked into Craig General Hospital on Oct. 6 and shot and killed DeAnna Dorsey, a nurse.

Martin was shot and killed moments later when he raised his weapon at Vinita police officers in the hospital parking lot.

The task force is looking for ways to protect Vinita's residents as well as former Eastern State patients who have been released as a result of the hospital's downsizing two years ago.

Local officials say both deaths could have been avoided if Eastern State had been available to Martin, who on numerous occasions in the past had checked himself in when he needed his medication regulated.

But the state's stance is that the service Eastern State provided has been replaced with other like services that are doing the job, Mackey said.

``It may look like it's working that way on paper, but when these people need help, the help isn't there,'' he said.

Mackey, pastor at Vinita's First Christian Church, said one obvious solution ``is to reopen a portion of Eastern State for the people to get the care they used to get.''

The downsizing of Eastern State came so quickly that the city wasn't prepared to handle the people that were more or less released from the facility to fend for themselves, he said.

``We are a dumping grounds of sorts. They're dropped off at the hospital's emergency room or Wal-Mart and told to call the police,'' Mackey said.

``I don't think the people of Vinita are willing to pay for the governor's modernization efforts with their blood for what was a rushed deal,'' he said.