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Mar Vista Psychiatric Hospital Assailed

August 18, 1988|CHRISTOPHER KRUEGER | Times Staff Writer

Angry Mar Vista residents Tuesday demanded closure of a psychiatric care facility for violating a 1986 city order to stop participation in a state program for mentally ill patients.

Neighbors testified before a city zoning administrator that Meadowbrook Manor continues to pose a threat to their safety and continues to accept patients under the state's Special Treatment Program despite zoning restrictions on operation of the facility. The restrictions were imposed after numerous complaints from residents.

While acknowledging that Meadowbrook still receives state funds under the program in violation of a city order, a Meadowbrook spokesman said the institution has tried to upgrade the quality of treatment for its patients and to lessen impact on neighbors.

The state provides money for intensive psychiatric treatment and rehabilitation of 66 patients for what Meadowbrook describes as mild mental illness.

Craig Nordstrom, vice president of Regency Health Services--which bought the home seven months ago--said rejecting the state funding would not change the type of patients who are treated there and would result in a loss to Meadowbrook of $6 per day for each patient covered by the program.

Nordstrom said the management before Regency accepted patients who weren't screened properly to ensure that their condition was stabilized so they would not cause problems. "It may have once been a nuisance, but it's not a nuisance today," he said.

Patients' Outbursts

However, neighbors told William E. Lillenberg, associate zoning administrator, that patients at the locked facility still disturb the peace of the neighborhood with loud outbursts and occasional escapes. They asked him to revoke the facility's permit to operate.

Lillenberg said he was taking the matter under advisement and would render a written decision in the next several months.

Carl Flegal, who lives across the street from Meadowbrook, said one patient escaped from the facility and banged on his front door a few months ago in an attempt to enter his home when his 10-year-old daughter was there alone.

His daughter no longer plays in front of their house because she is afraid of the patients, Flegal said.

Other residents spoke of patients screaming profanity through the fences that separate them from the street and throwing trash onto adjoining properties. Harry Oley, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1952, said that last year his young son was almost knocked over by a patient who was running from Meadowbrook and was being chased by three nursing home staff members.

The neighbors' criticism followed testimony by several psychiatrists and parents of patients that the nursing home fills a need. In many cases, they said, affordable, long-term care for psychiatric patients bridges the gap between short-term hospitalization and being homeless on the streets. Jerome Berchin said Meadowbrook has proved invaluable to his family since his son was stricken with a psychiatric problem while away at college. "In the 18 months (at the facility), he has come from the bottom of the pit to where he can reasonably function," Berchin said.

Berchin implored the zoning administrator not to revoke Meadowbrook's permit. "The residents of Meadowbrook are in themselves victims of their illnesses. It would be terrible if they were also victims of society. The residents of this (area) seem to have a selfish interest and are not looking at the greater needs of society," he said.

'Appropriate' Location

Psychiatrist Barry Friedman, a former medical director of the facility who now has patients there, said its location in a residential neighborhood is "appropriate" because it helps the patients integrate themselves into the community. He said the facility only accepts patients with "mild mental" problems--meaning that they have been stabilized at other programs or hospitals before being admitted to Meadowbrook.

Neighbors said they agreed that there is a need for psychiatric facilities--but not in crowded residential neighborhoods like Mar Vista.

The facility was built in 1924, before the surrounding neighborhood was zoned for residential use. The property was originally used as a convalescent home for the elderly.

Several residents said their problems with the facility began about 1978, when it switched from a board-and-care home to a locked facility for mentally ill patients.

"We are not insensitive people," said resident Vito Mammana. "Many of us know people mentally ill. We listen to their cries. But who listens to us?"

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