Tennessean Karen Easter Wins National Advocacy Award

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Easter is awarded Treatment Advocacy Center honors for her efforts in pushing Tennessee legislation that established a pilot program for individuals with untreated severe mental illness

Karen Easter wins 2012 Torrey Advocacy Commendation

Karen has dedicated herself for years to fighting for improvements in the lives of individuals with untreated severe mental illness in Tennessee.

Knoxville resident Karen Easter has been awarded national honors by the Treatment Advocacy Center for years of effort that led in 2012 to establishment of a pilot program in Tennessee to help people with untreated severe mental illness who are too sick to seek care.

The organization said Easter’s long and tenacious advocacy was critical to the passage of legislation establishing a two-year pilot program of assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) in Knoxville.

“Karen has dedicated herself for years to fighting for improvements in the lives of individuals with untreated severe mental illness in Tennessee,” said Doris A. Fuller, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center. “She exemplifies the qualities and achievements the Torrey Advocacy Commendation was established to recognize.”

The pilot program comes at a critical time. Earlier this year, Lakeshore Mental Health Institute in Knoxville was closed, leaving eastern Tennessee without a public psychiatric hospital, Fuller said. Tennessee had already closed 42% of its state hospitals in a five-year period, according to "No Room at the Inn," a Treatment Advocacy Center study released this summer. "The pilot program is a first step in addressing the treatment void left by the latest hospital closure," the executive said.

Easter became an activist after a loved one was arrested for behavior resulting from his untreated mental illness. At the time, she lived in one of the few states without an AOT law providing court-ordered treatment in the community for qualifying individuals with untreated severe mental illness. She realized that, had AOT been available, it might have prevented his encounter with the criminal justice system.

“There are people living with mental illness in our community who are desperate for treatment, and these people should not be sentenced to jail for lack of timely care,” Easter said. “My hope is that Knoxville's pilot program will demonstrate this and be implemented throughout the state.”

The Torrey Advocacy Commendation is given in recognition of the courage and tenacity of individuals who selflessly advocate for the right to treatment for people too severely disabled by mental illness to recognize their own need for care.

The Treatment Advocacy Center is the only national nonprofit dedicated to eliminating legal and other barriers to treatment for people with severe mental illness. The organization does not accept funding from companies or entities involved in the sale, marketing or distribution of pharmaceutical products.

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Jamie Mondics
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