To the Editor: I usually support Dr. E. Fuller Torrey's continuing efforts to improve care for patients with serious mental illness, but in his Taking Issue commentary entitled "The 'New Drugs' and the Research We Haven't Done" in the March 2000 issue (1), I think he was being unfair in singling out the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS) for lack of research on the many issues involved in the care and treatment of these patients.
NIMH has long had an interest in such research. Under the leadership of Dr. Robert Felix, its director from 1946 to 1970, NIMH obtained funding from Congress in 1956 to establish the Hospital Improvement Program grants. It was the first time in the nation's history that federal monies were made available to public mental hospitals to improve any kind of patient care. The grants supported hundreds of research and demonstration programs of the kind that Dr. Torrey describes. The Fairweather Lodges and Fountain House programs were among the grant recipients. But NIMH could not do the job alone. States still have the primary responsibility for these patients. And where were the researchers in the universities and medical schools?
There is plenty of blame to go around, but, in my view, NIMH did its fair share to stimulate and support better care for patients with serious mental illness.
Dr. Ozarin, who is retired, was medical director for the U.S. Public Health Service. She lives in Bethesda, Maryland.