Piece of Mind

Jackson's mental health unit fails Miami.

She battled depression, worked as a government secretary, and went on medication as an adult, says her cousin, Linda Kellogg. Jacqueline was a deeply religious loner who never married. At age 40, she lived with her parents in a spacious Coral Gables home. "She did better with the help of chemicals," remembers Kellogg, who now lives in California. "She used to write me such sweet letters."

One morning in 1979, her stepfather woke up, took out a gun, and shot his wife and then himself. Jacqueline found their bodies. "It really sent her over the edge," Kellogg remembers. "She had no one."

That year, a judge found she was unable to care for herself. Because she had no family nearby, a Miami attorney named Charles Johnson became her legal guardian in the late '90s. The gray-haired University of Florida alum helped her check into Epworth Village Retirement Community in Hialeah. There she would watch television and occasionally leave her room for birthday parties. "She was somewhat reclusive," Johnson says. "But she was content."


Then, on April 3, 2008, she snapped. "All of a sudden, I get a call she had checked in to Jackson Memorial," Johnson says. "I was happy to have her in what I thought was a reputable facility."

He met her there a few hours later and greeted her in what looked like a "holding cell," he says. About eight other patients were inside and Johnson suspected they were all waiting to be evaluated. Jacqueline was alert but wouldn't look at him. "The only thing she would say is 'I want to die,'" he remembers. "I have no idea what got her to that point."

At 5:43 a.m. April 4, 2008, within 24 hours of checking in, an aide found the chubby, fair-skinned 75-year-old dead inside her room in the psychiatric unit. "It was very suspicious," says Burton, who was then associate director. "She was supposed to be on 15-minute checks." No cause of death was ever determined.

Indeed, public records confirm no autopsy was conducted. "We don't know how long she went undiscovered," Johnson says. "Whether they took too long to evaluate her, I don't know."

Like pre-Jackson attempts to save Jacqueline Joyes's life, efforts aimed at fixing the psychiatric unit have failed. This past April, committees for the Florida Senate and House of Representatives considered something called the Community Mental Health & Substance Abuse Treatment & Crime Reduction Act. Its goal, in part, was to help remove pressure on state psychiatric crisis centers such as the one at Jackson. The act's concept was simple: Catch and treat people with mental illness before they end up in jails and emergency rooms. Put money into community-based prevention. And save millions in the process.

The legislation represented years of work by public and private leaders such as Miami-Dade Judge Steve Leifman. The bright, bespectacled jurist spent months meeting with the right people: politicians, reps from the Department of Children and Families, and community advocates. "It's a remarkable piece of legislation," he told New Times a couple weeks before the session closed.

Nearly every major newspaper in Florida editorialized in favor of the bill. The Miami Herald noted it would "save the state hundreds of millions." The St. Petersburg Times explained, "Florida cannot afford not to move in this direction."

But when it came time for the vote, politicians were bombarded with budget issues. Some believed there would be unanticipated costs. The bill made it through several Senate and House committees before the session ended. It never reached a floor vote. "It was overshadowed by so many other issues," says mental health project coordinator Coffey, who worked with Leifman on the act. "Anything that didn't relate to the budget got pushed aside."

It will likely go before the House and Senate again next year. Says Leifman: "[The current system] is the definition of insane... There's a better way to do this."

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