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Woman, 54, Kills Herself After Crisis-Center Visit

August 25, 1988|DENISE HAMILTON | Times Staff Writer

A 54-year-old Ventura woman jumped to her death from a downtown hotel slightly more than an hour after she visited a county-run mental health crisis center to seek help.

Mary Montgomery died of head injuries Sunday after she leaped from the fourth floor of the Ventura Inn. She was pronounced dead at 2:10 p.m.

Ventura police said Montgomery visited the 24-hour Ventura County crisis center on Hillmont Street at 1 p.m. She carried a suitcase and asked to stay there because she felt lonely after her boyfriend left her.

Crisis workers asked Montgomery repeatedly if she wanted to kill herself and she said no, according to the police report. The workers then suggested that Montgomery visit a private mental health facility, but she became irritable and left the room, according to the police report.

The workers then took the woman back to the Ventura Inn, where she committed suicide an hour later.

Critics of the county's mental health system say Montgomery's suicide underscores a longstanding problem. They say the mental health system has too little money, too many patients and not enough staff to deal adequately with mentally ill people who need help.

The Hillmont Center is licensed for 28 patients, but there were 36 patients there the day Montgomery asked to be admitted, said Nancy Nazario, county advocate for mental health patients.

But William Wakelee, chief of adult services for the county's mental health department, said the center has accommodated as many as 50 patients and that no patient who needs care is turned away.

"A clinical assessment is done, and if they need to go in, we see that they get treated," said Wakelee. He declined to comment on Montgomery's case, but said an internal review is pending.

Nazario contends that "when you have to cram 50 suicidal or psychotic people in a place that's meant for 28, it's uncomfortable, it's awful."

Earlier this year, Ventura County Supervisor John Flynn asked the Board of Supervisors to approve $200,000 for prefabricated building units to house and care for mentally ill patients.

The board, in its 1988-89 budget, allocated $25,000 for a study, $50,000 to rehabilitate the restrooms at the crisis center and $25,000 to care for mentally ill patients at Crestwood Hospital. It also put $50,000 into a trust fund that can be tapped this year as the need arises.

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