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| Columns |

Couple Learns About Miami Psych Units the Hard Way

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Having no health insurance sucks. Just ask Cecil Gamarra. Three years ago, the soft-spoken 42-year-old noticed his young Haitian wife beginning to change. She stopped sleeping and would vanish for days at a time. Sometimes she'd mutter things about people who didn't exist -- and places she'd never visited. 


Doctors soon diagnosed her with mental illness. She was prone to paranoid delusions and severe depression, they told Gamarra. "I think she felt isolated," he says, trying to understand. "She's a country mouse from Haiti, and her family is too far away to help."

Three weeks ago, it got bad. Gamarra, who lives in Little Havana, took her to the crisis unit at Jackson Memorial Hospital. As he recalls, she was promptly transferred to New Horizons Community Mental Health Center because she had no insurance. He says, "I told them specifically to please contact me when they discharged her."

They didn't, he says. Within a day, the busy facility sent her packing. She hopped on the first bus she saw and went missing.

Gamarra frantically called the cops and tracked her down. He found her "in worse shape than when [he] checked her in," he says. The following day, cops Baker Acted her, he says. It's not the first time she's been in and out of Miami facilities. "She goes through the exact same system over and over."

New Horizons doctor assistant Patricia Chase could not immediately answer questions about the center's release policy. But it's clear the problem is bigger than the health center. Mental health units in Florida are slammed because the state waits until people are deep into their illness before addressing the problem. (Read about it here.)

Says Gamarra: "I just don't know what to do."

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