Doug Gross

Doug Gross lives in Kansas, when he has a place to live. Too often, he’s on the streets because he has bipolar disorder. Because he has no insurance, his illness is not managed well. He cycles from mania to despression and back again, and often doesn’t remember what happened when he was experiencing mania.

As with any chronic illness, the symptoms just get worse when the illness isn’t managed, and people who have psychiatric illness often don’t get the care they need. More than  half of people in state prisons and local jails are there because they need help and can’t get it anywhere else. And jail is the most expensive and least appropriate place to treat psychiatric illness.

Doug has been chronically homeless and has been arrested several times — most recently for mouthing off to a police officer, according to his sister, Cynthia Sutherland, who lives here in North Carolina. Because he had a psychiatric crisis and needed medical help, he was shipped off to a psychiatric hospital, where he was stabilized.

But Doug developed another medical problem — he began experiencing rectal bleeding — and the hospital has refused to perform a colonoscopy because they only treat psychiatric illness.

Doug’s court-appoionted attorney argued that he needs diagnostic tests and treatment, but a judge agreed with the psychiatric hospital.

His sister, Cindi Sutherland, called me to ask what she could do to force the hospital to send her brother for tests.

My only answer is that she should try to shame the hospital into doing what’s right. Call the newspaper and the television stations in Kansas to let them know what’s happening.   Try to get word out that her brother is being denied care for a condition that could be fatal.

Cindi and I researched the media in around where Doug is hospitalized, but no one responded to Cindi’s letter. I made a few calls and one reporter called back, but no story was written because, as the reporter asked Cindi, “How do we know he really has rectal bleeding if he’s bipolar?”

As though one had anything to do with the other.

Recently, things got even woprse for Doug when the doctors took him off his medications for bipolar disorder. Cindi says he has become more agitated and isn’t able to sleep for more than a short time. He hasn’t had a complete night’s sleep since Christmas.

Cindi has contacted advocacy groups and an attorney, but no one seems to be able to do anything for him.

The hospital and the state get away with this kind of abuse because no one is shining a light on any of it. The media no longer do investigative or enterprise reporting, and people like Doug Gross suffer in the dark.

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It's official! We are WNC Health Advocates.
Please visit our new web site, Visit WNC Health Advocates
The new name reflects what we do -- advocate for health care for everyone and help people access and navigate our current health care system.
While we still hold onto the memory and the generous spirit of Mike Danforth, we need people to be able to see our name and understand who we are.

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We need your help now more than ever. Your tax-deductible donation will help us get Patient Pals and Family Friends to more people in need of peer support. Please consider a gift in honor or in memory of a loved one.
Donate here or mail your donation to Life o' Mike, PO Box 1213, Asheville, NC 28802.

Patient Pals & Family Friends

Life o' Mike has a peer support program for people with one or more serious or chronic medical issues or disabilities.

We aim to reduce isolation and fear among people who have conditions, including psychiatric illness, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, mild dementia or other cognitive disorder or disability, thereby reducing depression and complications as people learn to improve self-management of their medical conditions.

Patient Pals help alleviate feelings of isolation and frustration. They can help people develop a list of questions to ask the doctor and then accompany the person to the doctor to make sure all the questions are answered, taking notes to be sure the person understands the doctor’s answers.

Our trained volunteers also accompany their “Pals” to art exhibits, movies and walks outdoors, meet for coffee, call to check in and more.

Our Pals have experienced weight loss, improvement in diabetes, HIV, psoriasis, depression and more, just because they have someone who cares about them. Some relationships develop into longer-term friendships; other Pals move on to more independent lives.

Family Friends are there to help caregivers and other family members grow into their new role.

We need volunteers, who are asked to donate a minimum of one hour a week. Training is free and includes information on active listening, ways to help and when to know more help is needed.

And of course, we need funding.

To learn more, call Leslie Boyd at 828-243-6712 or e-mail

Life o’ Mike honors Joe Eblen

Life o' Mike presented its first Michael T. Danforth Community Service Award to Joe Eblen at a luncheon on June 8, in the Friendship Hall of First Congregational Church, 20 Oak St., Asheville.
Joe, seen here with Leslie Boyd, left, and his wife, Bobbie, has spent his life helping children and families, both as a coach and game official for more than 60 years, and as founder of Eblen Charities.

Start From Seed

Life o' Mike has a new program- Start from Seed (SFS).
SFS is a volunteer doula program aimed at providing non-medical, comprehensive support to low income, high-risk women and families of Buncombe County focusing on three areas:

1. We help new doulas with certification and training in return for their participation as a volunteer doula for SFS

2. We mentor volunteer doulas with their first few clients

3. Our volunteer doulas provide birth and postpartum doula services to low income, high risk moms, providing support and tools to empower them as a new parent.

A birth doula is a trained and experienced professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth; a postpartum doula provides emotional and practical support during the postpartum period.

Start from Seed clients are referred to us from the Buncombe County Department of Health’s Nurse-Family Partnership Program, Western North Carolina Community Health Services, and Mission Hospital. The Program is intended and designed for growing clients’ inner strength and helping them gain empowerment to help them cope with the emotional, physical and mental challenges of childbirth, labor, and motherhood.

Our new moms and their infants have many needs. If you would like to help them get off to a good start, please visit our Start from Seed web site: Start from Seed, or call Program Director Chelsea Kouns at 804-814-9946.

Events in the community

Free birth and labor classes

Peaceful Beginning Doula Services holds free birth forums, Peaceful Birth, 6:30-8 p.m. the last Thursday of every month (except November) at Spa Materna, 640 Merrimon Ave., above The Hop, in Asheville.
All are welcome, expectant women and their partners are encouraged to attend anytime during their pregnancy. We also encourage doulas and other maternal/child professionals to attend and share in the discussions. The forums are "birth circle" style, focusing on normal birth which follows the Lamaze Six Care Practices for Healthy Birth. The forums are led by certified and experienced educators.

NAMI Family-to-Family Class

NAMI of Western Carolina holds 12-week classes for families and caregivers of individuals with a severe mental illness 6-8:30 p.m. Mondays at Charles George VA Medical Center, 1100 Tunnel Road in Asheville. The course covers major mental illnesses and self-care. Registration required. Info at 828-299-9596 or

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