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Jails are not healthcare

April 8, 2014
by Kevin Turner
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Architects are sensitive. It’s true. Sometimes we get worked up about stuff that nobody else cares about. Right now I am worked up about a really great project I just saw. What?!? If it was great, then what’s the problem? Well…

I was invited to serve on the design awards jury for Behavioral Healthcare magazine. We looked at a wide variety of recent projects which showed not only how far this specialty has come, but how far we still need to go.

One of the projects submitted was a correctional facility in Canada. It is really good. I really liked it. One juror said, “I wish all behavioral healthcare projects were this good.” I agree.

The problem as I see it: Jails are not healthcare. They use a lot of the same safety products and planning principles, particularly in a low security setting such as this one. This project team was very sensitive to creating an environment that would promote sociological healing for the inmates. It is easy to get confused. So why am I worked up?

Because jails are not healthcare and behavioral healthcare IS healthcare. Many folks in the healthcare world think of psych units as something else, something OTHER. They look at these units as jails slotted into hospitals. Too often, they don’t take ownership of this as a treatment environment. Why? Because there is a stigma associated with mental illness. I recently heard a hospital executive speak glowingly of what needs to happen to improve the state of psychiatric treatment. When he was done he told the audience he was now going to turn his attention to “medical” issues. Medical issues? What is mental illness if not a medical issue?

Maybe I am too sensitive. Maybe I am rightfully upset at the frequency of suicide in the U.S. - 30,000 suicides a year. Most of these are the result of a set of illnesses that are treatable, yet the treatment these patients need is underfunded and underappreciated.

You decide, but I know this: Jails are not healthcare and if we don’t do behavioral healthcare right, most of our patients will end up in jails. That would be a tragedy!


Kevin Turner

Principal, Perkins+Will

Kevin Turner

Kevin is a recognized leader in the design and operations of behavioral healthcare facilities. ...

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