Co-workers of slain nurse blame overhaul in mental health system

Sunday, October 21st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

VINITA, Okla. (AP) _ Those who knew a nurse shot to death by a former mental patient as she worked in Craig General Hospital two weeks ago say they blame a cutback at the town's mental hospital two years earlier.

Many complain the state closed 150 beds at Eastern State Hospital in Vinita too quickly, before enough mental health care professionals could be trained to provide quality care for more than 1,000 clients in northeast Oklahoma.

``I would like to stand in front of Gov. (Frank) Keating, with his full attention, and ask how much is a human life worth?'' said Dale Dorsey, whose wife DeAnna Dorsey was murdered while working at the hospital.

Dorsey said he believes that if the state hadn't been in a hurry to shut down Eastern State his wife would be alive today. The shooter, Ricky Martin, went to Eastern State whenever his medication was not working.

``Those with mental handicaps are people, too,'' he said. ``But they were dislodged, scattered and had to move.''

Martin, who had a long history of mental illness, walked into Craig General two weeks ago with four boxes of ammunition and a semiautomatic pistol. He shot the first person he saw six times. That was DeAnna Dorsey, who was picking up the telephone to call her daughter.

Minutes later, he was shot to death by police officers as he stood on the hood of a car and screamed obscenities.

In a letter to the governor, Craig General Hospital Chief Operating Officer Barbara Hodges said DeAnna Dorsey and Martin were victims of the system.

``I understand the 'rights' of the individual in the mental health system,'' she wrote. ``Their rights are not being upheld. Certainly the rights of my nurse were not upheld.''

Keating said he will authorize a systemwide review.

``The death of Deanna Dorsey was horrific and a loss to her family and to the state and should never have occurred,'' he said. ``This is the first I've heard that there is a problem of dangerous and severely mentally ill patients running the streets of Vinita.''

Keating joined a nationwide shift to a community-based mental health treatment system. He had the support of many recognized advocates for the mentally ill at the time.

He still has support, but at least one patients' advocate said the shooting in Vinita represents a larger national problem.

``The policy to let people into the community is the absolute correct decision,'' said Steven Buck, executive director of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. ``But we didn't build the infrastructure to carry out the policy.''

Buck said the state should create more assertive treatment programs.

Critics of the overhaul of the mental health system say the reforms will not deliver the promised savings to the state and will deprive those with mental illness an important support system.

For example, while funding for Eastern State was reduced by $6.5 million for fiscal year 2001, funding for community mental health centers in the region increased by $10.7 million.

In Oklahoma City, authorities suspect several people with histories of mental illness have been killed in confrontations with police in the past two years.

And the failure of the Mental Health Department and Tulsa's Parkside Hospital to agree on a new contract this summer forced the state last month to dispatch an emergency team of state employees to meet inpatients' needs.