Club Meds

The mental-health-care system says Lynda Sue Dale, a young mentally ill mother, is ineligible for treatment -- until she informs the bureaucrats she's talking to New Times

Lynda gave birth to Devlin Jr. on April 29, 1998, but the newborn's presence didn't help matters on the home front. In March 1999, police arrested Lynda on domestic-violence charges after a loud and vicious clash with her boyfriend at their Long Beach apartment. A California judge allowed her to serve her three-year probation term in Arizona.

Lynda moved back with her mother just before last Christmas, but the old stresses between the pair resurfaced. She rented her own apartment a few weeks later, and then applied for social security benefits and mental-health treatment.

Things had changed since Lynda had left Arizona a few years earlier. Perhaps most important, ValueOptions had started to deliver mental-health services to county residents in February 1999.

Lynda Dale, when she was about 12. Less than two years later, she was a runaway who was living with a man old enough to be her grandfather.
Lynda Dale, when she was about 12. Less than two years later, she was a runaway who was living with a man old enough to be her grandfather.
Lynda Dale, when she was about 12. Less than two years later, she was a runaway who was living with a man old enough to be her grandfather.
courtesy of Dale family
Lynda Dale, when she was about 12. Less than two years later, she was a runaway who was living with a man old enough to be her grandfather.

Records indicate that, during an interview with eligibility evaluator Elizabeth Rodgers, Lynda admitted she'd smoked marijuana and drunk some alcohol a few weeks earlier. But she also told Rodgers that her intake was occasional, not habitual as it had been in her early teenage years.

ValueOptions concluded Lynda was ineligible for treatment services: "It was not possible to determine if your symptoms are caused by a mental illness or by your substance abuse."

That chicken-or-egg approach has been company policy since it came to town, though it may be about to change, according to court monitor Glenn. She says ValueOptions has agreed to presume an applicant is seriously mentally ill, even when concurrent substance-abuse problems may exist -- as they frequently do.

"It was crazy for them to deny her on the basis of that B.S.," says Ruth-Ann Robinson. "She's a master of spin control, but she's also incapable a lot of time of doing the right thing. Her mind just won't let her. That's called mental illness."

In late February, Lynda also sought social security disability benefits.

On February 27, Nancy Dale wrote on her daughter's application, "Lynda cannot cope with her two-year-old . . . [She] goes up and down emotionally. She may be loud, elated, hyperactive and energetic, or is in a sad, guilt-ridden depression. She gets extremely agitated and out of control over the most insignificant thing. She is physically and verbally abusive to me and other people. Lynda desperately needs help! She cannot function in society."

Psychiatrist Richard Rosengard interviewed Lynda briefly, scanned some paperwork, then penned an evaluation for the government. He must have caught Lynda on a good day.

"Her insight and judgment are relatively okay," Rosengard wrote in a March 31 report. "She certainly can care for herself, care for her son, [and] provide for her own activities of daily living such as cleaning, shopping and cooking."

As evidence of Lynda's alleged ability to hold a job, the psychiatrist cited Lynda's short stint as a lifeguard in California, and a brief gig at a supermarket in 1997.

Social security officials, too, rejected Lynda's application for financial benefits: "Medical records show that, while you may be depressed at times, this has not affected your ability to remember, understand or communicate with others. . . . We have determined that your condition is not severe enough to keep you from working."

Ruth-Ann Robinson -- a woman not prone to cutting Lynda much slack -- scoffs at the government's analysis. "Lynda can't last in any job for too long because her illness won't let her at this time," Robinson says. "For anyone to say otherwise is ridiculous."

After the double-whammy rejection from both ValueOptions and social security, Nancy Dale sought help from the Maricopa Advisory Council on Developmental Disabilities. The overburdened agency advocates on behalf of the seriously mentally ill. Later, Nancy hired a lawyer to appeal the Social Security Administration's decision against Lynda.

The latter appeal is pending. Lynda's acceptance into ValueOptions' fold came only after Nancy Dale contacted New Times about her daughter's plight.

"It doesn't surprise me that they gave this person's case a second look if she did mention the media," says a ValueOptions psychiatrist, who requested anonymity. "If you scream loud enough, you may get somewhere in this system."

ABS assigned Lynda to a case manager in late May. Lynda began to take her new medications, and spoke excitedly for a time about turning her life around.

But all the drugs and counselors in the world don't add up to a cure-all, for her or anyone else. As has happened often in her life, Lynda soon reverted to striking out verbally and physically against those who displease her.

Phoenix police have been called to Lynda's apartment complex at least twice in recent weeks to quell clashes between Lynda and her immediate family. Reports say that, on May 29, officers took Lynda to a crisis center for emergency treatment after she allegedly attacked her sister with a baby stroller. She spent a few hours there, calmed down, then returned to her apartment.

But things have been tense since then. Lynda spent most of her Fourth of July in the mode of a short-fused firecracker. Of all things, she threw a fit over the status of a baby's car seat. Her mother threatened to call police as the clash escalated, and then locked herself in her apartment. Lynda says she called the police herself, more out of spite than anything. No one was arrested.

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