Sunday, August 9, 2009
Who is Responsible?
Recently, San Antonio was shocked by the horrible circumstances surrounding the death of an infant. A baby boy was butchered by his mother. She reportedly decapitated him and cannibalized his tiny body in a psychotic depression. There was an outcry throughout the city calling for her incarceration and for the death penalty. Apparently, the mom had been on psychiatric medication prior to learning she was pregnant. She stopped the medications to be able to give birth to a healthy baby. This does not seem to be the action of an insane person. But then, she was still on her medications. Once she had delivered the baby, she began the task of being a mom. She had family who supported her. She was able to work as a home healthcare staff and was well thought of by her co-workers. What changed? What made this mom, who neighbors reported was a good mom, kill her baby? Local media reported, the mom had gone to a local medical clinic the day of the murder to seek help. She had her son with her. The staff saw her and thought the situation was serious enough to warrant a ride to a local emergency room via ambulance. She arrived at a hospital downtown, and was seen by the medical staff in the emergency department. She still had her son with her. It is unclear why she was released, but she was, with her son. It was not reported to whom she was released. Family? Friends? It is clear she had had contact with her family and they had some idea she was upset. It is very clear she was left alone with her infant after these events. The excerpts from the 911 tapes that were released tell a chilling story of a cousin finding the blood and body of the baby. The mom can be heard in the background, very confused and saying she had killed her child though she loved him very much. So, a small life is extinguished. An adult life is destroyed. A father mourns as does a city. Postpartum psychosis is real. It is not an act. It cannot be "gotten over" by sheer power of will. This horrifc act is not something we would expect of a sane mind. The fact that Otty Sanchez admitted to the acts, she did not try to hide anything, including the swords she had used show she was not sane. Is she responsible? yes. She took her child's life in a most heinous way. But there are other responsible parties that must not be let off the hook. The hospital staff who saw the mom the evening of the murder must answer. Why was this woman allowed to leave with her child? What solid data can they point to to prove there was no threat of harm to herself or anyone else, especially the baby? What about the family? Did they allow her to be unsupervised when they had some indication there was a problem? Was she that able to hide the psychotic episode that was brewing? The system failed this woman and this child. She sought help. She knew she was in trouble and she went for help. If the safety net in Bexar County failed this family, it will fail others. Every person who was shocked and appalled by this crime needs to let city council and the Governor know we will not let this go on. Mental health care and service is vital to a healthy society. Our city and state needs to provide an adequate safety system for anyone who is on need of help in order to prevent crimes like this in the future. Insurance approval has no place in this scenario. Payment should not be an issue. The main points should be the safety and well being of the people who live in our city and state. We all need to learn what the signs of mental instability are and what to do about them. Then, where can we go? When our one county emergency room that has trained psychiatric providers is overflowing, what does that say? There is a massive need for care that is being unanswered. Therapist and psychiatrists across the state are quick to refer their patients to the closest emergency room when the weekend, vacations and holidays come around. These same providers are quick to point out general medical personnel don't have the expertise to handle significant psychiatric issues. It takes specialized training which only they have. But in an emergency, the medical staff of emergency rooms are good enough according to the same professionals. The entire medical system failed this family and continues to fail most of our mentally ill citizens. There is no safety net in San Antonio. Our local MHMR is held up as a national model for jail diversion. But what about the people who are not picked up on an offense. Those who float through undetected in our society until the voices get to bee too much and an act of violence outs them. If you are in need of emergency psychiatric care here in San Antonio, you may have a very long wait for limited help. This case will be played out in the courtroom. Little will be reported on the exact facts and details of the events leading up to the death of the child. This will happen again unless something changes. With the current attitude in the state and city government towards mental health, this will surely happen again. We all have a responsibility to advaocate foror those who cannot advocate for themselves. Stand up and support legislative change to allow help for those who cannot request it for themselves. But mostly, listen to the people around you. Pay attention to those invisible people who float by you every day. One of them may be in desperate need of mental health care. Be the change agent in someone's life. A baby is murdered and a city is stricken. What will you do to make sure this never happens again?