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Support for Greece's mentally ill disintegrates as money dries up

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But when the European debt crisis erupted in 2009, some of the reforms, namely deinstitutionalization, were not finished. After three decades of housing the mentally ill in hospitals, the plan was for patients to be moved either to smaller shelters or boarding homes or back to their own homes with the intent of reintegrating them into society. They were slated to receive care through nearby mental health centers, some of them homes where the patients lived, others outpatient facilities where patients just stopped in. The facilities, created so that only people suffering emergency and very serious cases of mental illness had to live in hospitals, were financed by the EU until 2007, after which the Greek government had agreed to take over the funding.

“The problem is that despite the 25 years of financing from the EU, there was never a plan by the Greek state on how to carry on with the reform,” says Mr. Megaloikonomou.  “Deinstitutionalization never happened. There was only trans-institutionalization: patients were sent from big institutions to smaller ones. So, chronic patients were taken from psychiatric hospitals to centers that were often using similar methods.”

The mental health centers are now facing a 55 percent cut to their national budget – from 2011 to 2012, or 85 million euros to 40 million euros – as well as delays in payments and some have been forced to shut down. The overall health care budget is 25 percent lower today than it was in 2009.

“We still haven’t received the whole budget the ministry assigned to us for 2011,” said Eleni Tsigara, president of EPSAMY, one of the mental health homes in Athens. “The only way to continue was to reach a settlement with the electricity company and social security office.”

EKEPSYE, a home in Athens that closed last September, housed eight patients. Three of them were sent back to Dafni Hospital, even though they didn’t require hospitalization. 

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