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March 2010

 Frank Fleischer

Mental Health Advocate

Candidate for Ohio House of Representatives, 93rd District


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   Frank Fleischer

Frank Fleischer probably knows more about mental illness and its impact on individuals and families than most people.  In addition to serving as the CEO of two mental health hospitals, Frank is a family member with first-hand lived experience of three generations effected by mental illness.

Frank’s Uncle Dick lived with bipolar illness during a time when the illness was not understood  and treatment consisted of heavy sedation and crude electric shock therapy.  Frank spent quite a bit of time with his Uncle Dick during his formative years, and he remembers him as a “loving and sweet man who often got into trouble when his symptoms were not adequately controlled, and who was in and out of psychiatric hospitals.”


When asked about his uncle’s illness and how the extended family related to his uncle, Frank became choked up.  “I remember one family reunion when Uncle Dick had just been released from the hospital on a new medication.  He had a bad reaction to it and started falling down, slurring his words, and behaving erratically.  He ended up having to be taken back to the hospital from the reunion to get stabilized.  After the incident, Uncle Dick was embarrassed and worried that he had scared the younger children.  Fortunately, the love and compassion that we all felt for Uncle Dick was more than enough for our family to overlook this and other incidents like it, but we never really had a good understanding of the illness or why he behaved the way he did.”

Frank reflected, “I think that the average person forgets what it is like for individuals with mental illness who may lose control of their behavior.  The embarrassment that they experience after the fact makes their recovery that much more difficult.  I wish people could just accept these illnesses and the symptoms that often accompany them, and be more supportive and understanding.”

The Fleischer family has found that bipolar illness apparently runs in their family.  One of Frank’s cousins, Uncle Dick’s daughter, was diagnosed with bipolar when she was 20.  She dropped out of college for a year during which she was able to get connected to community based treatment, prescribed new and improved medication, and received education about her illness.   She only required one hospitalization, and was able to go back to school where she earned her Master’s Degree, and today she lives a full, active life as a wife, mother and professional.

Listen. By listening to the person who is ill and listening to their family members, the approach that is most effective for that person will emerge

“Would she be where she is today, professionally, if it were known by her employer and co-workers that she has a mental illness?  Sadly, probably not,” surmised Frank as he acknowledged that mental illnesses are still not understood or accepted in many aspects of our society.

Bipolar disorder hit even closer to home about fifteen years ago when Frank’s own daughter, Bethany, was diagnosed with the illness.  She, too, has benefitted from community-based services, improved medications and counseling.  Fortunately, she has never had to be hospitalized due to her psychiatric condition; however, she has had a number of problems gaining access to care because her “pre-existing condition” prevents her from getting health care insurance.  “For now, she has been receiving care through one of the federally qualified health centers, but we are looking forward to the day in the not too distant future when she can receive health care insurance despite her pre-existing condition,” said Frank. 

During her participation in a genetic research study through the University of Pittsburgh, Bethany had an epiphany.  “Her involvement in this study really helped her to understand her illness.  She was able to fully appreciate that it was not just her, but that people do get sick and people can recover,” said Frank.

“Understanding that recovery is possible is such a key for people with psychiatric disorders.  How can someone be motivated to do all the things necessary to manage this illness, seek out appropriate treatment, and just get through the day if they don’t have hope?” asked Frank.  “I know I wouldn’t be able to and I think it is too much to expect others to do it without the support of family and others who have been there.  They need to see that others have come through the same challenges and are able to enjoy life.  I know I couldn’t do it alone.”

Asked to reflect on his years of professional experience and as a family member of three generations of loved ones with a serious brain disorder, and offer some advice to others, Frank said, “Listen.  Everyone is an individual and what works for one may not work for another.  The right prescription for recovery is different for everyone.  By listening to the person who is ill and listening to their family members, the approach that is most effective for that person will emerge.”

Excerpts from NAMI Ohio’s Response to the Balancing and Beyond Report

In last month’s issue of The Stigma Buster, we shared with you that the Strickland Administration had circulated a draft document entitled, Balancing and Beyond: A Vision for Community Services and Supports for Individuals with Disabilities and had requested input Below are excerpts from NAMI Ohio’s response.  

The state continues to house individuals with mental illnesses in nursing homes when those individuals have no need for the level and type of health care provided.  It has been estimated that between 5,000 – 8,000 individuals with serious mental illness are housed in nursing homes simply because there is nowhere else for them to go.  The lowest average daily cost for such housing is $125.00/day. 

Housing is a cornerstone of recovery from serious mental illness.  Unfortunately, housing resources are drying up.  At a time when we should be focusing on the most cost effective housing options we continue to underutilize and misallocate existing resources. 

The failure of the community mental health system to adequately serve those in supported housing options and the lack of adequate compensation add significant additional burdens on housing operators.  While the state reduces the resources available to support residents, state agencies cite operators for lack of care or operational deficiencies. While local community services are denied residents, operators are blamed for failing to avoid crisis situations in their homes and the consequences that follow. While operators provide case management and other services every day, they are denied the opportunity to receive compensation for doing so. 

Our leaders must stop the bleeding that has occurred in recent decades and rebuild the structure of our mental health system. That system needs an additional $175 million to bring it back to a minimally acceptable level of function.  Ohio’s current economic climate and the current dim forecast of the coming biennium may prevent large financial reinvestment now, but it is no excuse for not acting to get full value for the resources we are investing and acting, at least incrementally, to prevent further erosion of the system we have built over the past decades.  Waste and inefficient/ineffective policies must be eliminated. We need to be planning and acting now to prevent our current $175 million problem from becoming a “$500 million” problem in a few years.  Directing a greater share of public dollars to community housing will serve a larger population of those needing care while simultaneously reducing the demand for more costly and ultimately less effective institutional care. 


Stigma Busting Challenge: Spring has sprung! Take a nature hike, enjoy new life emerging everywhere, and appreciate your own health and the recovery of others.

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