Not a medical facility

This piece by Mercy Survivor Anna was originally published on her personal blog, External Mercy, and can be viewed here.

Not a medical facilityI’m going to take a bit a break from the manual review for this post.  The holidays are impossible to get away from, and it got me thinking about how Mercy Multiplied handled the Christmas holidays.  Because Mercy Multiplied is not an actual treatment facility, residential facility, medical facility, anything facility, they simply close down for two weeks for the winter holidays.  Anybody who isn’t familiar with quality treatment programs might think that this is normal, but it’s definitely not.  I’m been in multiple different treatment centers over the holidays various different years and while there were definitely more “passes” (treatment team permission to leave the facility to visit with family or friends), they never just shut down.  Think about it…hospitals don’t shut down.  They might discharge anybody and everybody they can, but when illness is so extreme to need 24-7 round the clock care and supervision, the assumption is that there are those who aren’t well enough to leave for two weeks.

One of the excuses reasons that Mercy Multiplied would most likely offer in response to this is that they are “not a medical facility.”  Mercy Multiplied is very careful (and has become increasingly more careful) in the words they officially use to describe their program.  I’m all about accuracy in description and reporting, but usually the purpose of this is to make sure that individuals are well-informed about a program and able to make a decision as to whether the program will be a good fit for their needs and beneficial for them.

Mercy Multiplied seems different than other quality programs (and even some non-quality programs) because while they are very careful to keep from using phrases such as “treatment facility” or “medical facility,” they are also simultaneously reaching out to specific populations of young women who are seeking treatment for various different reasons that require treatment or medical monitoring.  This leads me to believe that the care in their language and descriptions has much more to do with possible legal issues (because as we know from the manual’s review they definitely recommend getting well-qualified legal advice) than it does to making sure they are serving the right clientele and able to meet the needs of their residents.  Seems more like they’re following the advice of their lawyers to protect their organization at the cost of appropriate care for those they are claiming to help.  That’s just my take on it, though.

Think about it…have you ever tried going to a podiatrist for your toothache?  No, because you know that if you do they’ll turn you away and send you to a dentist.  They know  they are not qualified to care for you teeth.  Now they might tell you that taking care of your feet will help your teeth (it’s all part of the same body afterall), but they can’t tell you that they’ll take care of your teeth.  This is good, because you don’t want a foot doctor caring for your teeth anymore than you want a dentist doing your foot surgery.  You want a medical professional that is trained, certified, and experienced with the problem for which you are seeking help.  In other words, you want a dentist.  Mercy Multiplied claims that they are able to care for young women with mental illnesses, eating disorders, past abuse, self-harm, etc., but they aren’t actually qualified to do so.  Like they say, they’re not a medical facility.

I wouldn’t have a problem with this if they were to be responsible, make clear that they only offer basic prayer ministry from laypersons, and send applicants that need treatment to actual treatment facilities.  After all, when’s the last time you saw a podiatrist telling success stories about someone who needed a root canal? Eating disorders are a prime example.  While classified as a mental illness, eating disorders have significant medical and nutritional issues that must also be addressed in fact anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder (Arcelus, Mitchell, Wales, & Nielsen, 2011).  But does Mercy Multiplied tell those applying that they are not qualified to treat eating disorders?  On the contrary, they actively promote the idea that they treat eating disorders.  I think when it comes to eating disorders, they are deceptive and medically negligent—and the same goes for other disorders and struggles.  Mercy Multiplied should not get to specify that they are NOT a medical facility while simultaneously acting as if they were. But that’s what Mercy Multiplied does.

I hear the comeback of course, you have to be “medically stable” in order to be accepted into the program.  An MD has to sign off on that, but there are several issues with that.

  1. The doctor signing off on a future resident’s medical stability does NOT have to be trained, certified, or even knowledgeable with regard to psychiatric diagnoses and their effects on medical stability.  (For those of you who have been spared the experience, most doctors are horrifically unknowledgeable about eating disorders, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, or trauma issues.  The last doctor that I saw asked why I was on Prozac.   When I told him it was for depression his response was “You don’t look depressed.”  I guess he wasn’t expecting me to be smiling?)
  2. Medical stability is often not well-defined, particularly for psychological disorders. Plus once a resident is in the program, is it simply assumed that they will maintain their medical stability?  (Maybe it’s changed since then, but I was there with an eating disorder for 9 months, and I don’t remember ever getting my blood pressure taken. And there was definitely not anyone there qualified to evaluate my state of mind or psychological distress levels.
  3. Even programs that are medical facilities often require medical stability.  (For instance, residential treatment centers for psychiatric issues require medical stability as do psychiatric hospitals that are not part of a medical hospital.  Not needing immediate medical care is not the same as not needing treatment or care whatsoever.)

If Mercy Multiplied is truly following their “not a medical facility” and not “treatment” line of reasoning, why aren’t they up-front about their lack of qualifications, denial of evidence-based care, and lack of validated proof of their claimed success rates? If the podiatrist treating your dental problems failed to make that sort of information clear, would you be okay with it?

Here’s the thing Mercy Multiplied —you don’t get to have it both ways: You don’t get to claim you’re not a treatment facility but promote yourselves as caring for individuals who need a treatment facility.  If you want to take your brand of ministry and spread it to the ends of the earth, fine, but you don’t get to lead people to think that it’s appropriate for those who need a treatment facility.

I wouldn’t have any problem with Mercy Multiplied saying that they’re a place where someone can come and spend time going to church, watching sermons, doing chores, listening to Joyce Meyer, and meeting with a prayer counselor–at least that description is somewhat accurate.

For all their talk of authenticity when it comes to finances, they are quite the opposite when it comes to information about the actual program.  They may have consulted a lawyer when putting together their promotional materials, but I don’t think they consulted a doctor.  But that’s okay right?  I mean, what matters is the organization and its reputation right?  It’s not like someone’s life is at stake…oh, wait…it is.

Let’s look at how the medically stable process went down in my case.  I was struggling with an eating disorder and other various self-destructive behaviors.  I saw a doctor that I’d never seen before who had no experience with any of these things.  That’s right, any old doctor would have done as long as there was a signature.  If I remember correctly the doctor that I saw was actually an orthopedic specialist because I didn’t have insurance and couldn’t afford a doctor’s visit so a friend of a friend got me in.  The doctor was required to sign off on a “medically stable” weight for me.  He put down the weight that I was because I was obviously “fine” if I was there seeing him.  I presented Mercy Multiplied as a treatment facility because that’s what I thought it was—after all, Mercy Multiplied knew what my issues and diagnoses were, and they accepted me, so I assumed they must be able to help me.

Mercy Multiplied themselves often shares the dire nature of a young women’s plight prior to coming to Mercy Multiplied in their success stories and information about the program.  They’ve taken in individuals from across the world that didn’t even have a doctor’s permission to fly due to their medically precarious state.  They’ve required individuals to remain unhospitalized while awaiting placement with Mercy Multiplied despite immediate medical and safety concerns that recommended hospitalization.  This is not just irresponsible, it’s dangerous and putting the lives of young women in jeopardy.  But they apparently can get away with this because they are “not a medical facility.”

After my time at Mercy Multiplied, I remember my treatment team and I seeking a residential or inpatient facility that would accept me because I had deteriorated far beyond the realm of outpatient care.  I remember being frustrated that there were facilities that refused to take me simply because of various diagnoses.  Now, while I still find the lack of facilities that specialize in certain various issues, there was wisdom in that.  At least they weren’t telling me that they could help me and take me in knowing that they couldn’t.  Mercy Multiplied didn’t offer me that kind of respect.  And as horrible as it would be for a facility to purport to be able to help someone and realize a bit into it that it was outside their realm of experience and then refer the patient out to appropriate care, Mercy Multiplied didn’t even do that.  Instead when Mercy Multiplied is faced with an individual who is failing to make “progress” in the program, the individual is blamed for not working the program, trying hard enough, submitting enough, or believing enough. Mercy Multiplied, their staff, and their program get immunity from any responsibility and don’t have to be accountable for the damage they are doing.

Think about being desperate for help, being evaluated by staff and doctors, being told you’re a good candidate, and being accepted into a program that doesn’t have the ability to help you.  Now imagine you’re in the program and finding the program is not helping you (surprise, surprise), but you’re told that it’s your fault the program is not helping even though they never had the ability to help in the first place.  This is the situation that many residents and former residents have found themselves up against at Mercy Multiplied.

And people give Mercy Multiplied a pass because they say they’re “not a medical facility.”  I wonder if people would have the same response if a podiatrist advertised for and knowingly accepted patients, specifically with dental issues, telling stories of a wildly successful cure?  Or maybe it’s only okay if you call it a ministry.

Written By Anna