Melanie Funchess, director of community engagement and family support for the Mental Health Association, says that when she saw the police bodycam footage of Daniel Prude’s in-custody death, she could see that he was having a mental health crisis. His behavior was irrational. He was naked in the cold.
“They couldn’t even do so much to put a blanket, show the slightest bit of kindness to put a blanket?” Funchess said. “Because they got him down and put the handcuffs on him, they could have covered him.”
Because of the incident, Funchess says that now people may be too afraid to call for help when a loved one is in distress for fear of police brutality, making it harder for them to get help.
Funchess says what’s needed is a separate crisis response team of community members and mental health clinicians trained in crisis intervention and de-escalation.
A program like that exists in Eugene, Oregon, called CAHOOTS, and it costs about $2.1 million a year. The Rochester Police Department’s budget in 2019 was about $90 million.
Did racial disparities in mental health care contribute to Prude’s death?
However, as more information comes to light regarding Prude’s death, some people are raising concerns over racial disparities in the mental health field that may have contributed to his death.
Hours before he was apprehended, Prude was at Strong Memorial Hospital for a mental health evaluation after showing signs of suicidal behavior.
The University of Rochester Medical Center said in a statement that their healthcare teams follow all applicable laws and standards of clinical care and that they are conducting an internal review of Prude’s visit.
Funchess says that isn’t enough. She wants an independent investigation into Daniel Prude’s evaluation and treatment at Strong Hospital by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, which has accredited URMC for nearly 20 years. Friday afternoon, after being contacted by WXXI News about the Daniel Prude case, the Joint Commission said they will investigate Prude’s treatment at Strong Hospital.
"Failure to address the concern may potentially adversely affect an organization’s accreditation status," they said in a statement.
The Joint Commission is responsible for accrediting hospitals, grading them on patient safety and quality of care. Strong Hospital received a Gold Seal a month before Daniel Prude and his brother sought treatment for him there. Most accreditations are valid for three years.
“Doing what is applicable by law is the basement,” Funchess said. “It is not medicine of the highest order. Did they do the bare minimum or did they do medicine of the highest order? That is my question.”
URMC said that they do not agree that the care the hospital provided in this case "is an example of the systemic shortfalls we all want to address," and that based on their review, they believe his care "was medically appropriate and compassionate."
Officials say that over the last two days, leadership from the URMC Department of Psychiatry “have begun conversations with the Monroe County Office of Mental Health about how Strong Memorial Hospital can play a major role in addressing these challenges."