In Right to Fail, the PBS Frontline series teams up with ProPublica to investigate the relocation of mentally ill populations on the outskirts of New York City. The story brings up a series of moral questions involving an adult's right to determine their own fate, and the state's obligations to its citizenry.
The city offers a variety of adult care homes for the indigent and mentally ill, which are frequently criticized for their shabby staffing and deplorable living conditions. A government ruling in 2014 permitted thousands of these residents to leave these institutions and establish a more independent existence.
Can the institutionalized live successfully within the community at large? What should be the criteria for their eligibility? How much follow-up and management care is needed to ensure their success? To what extent should we allow them to fail on their own and learn from their shortcomings so they may create better lives for themselves?
"I felt like a human being for the first time in so many years," says one of the nearly 4000 psychologically disabled residents who were released on their own following the government ruling. She, like the other benefactors of the program, was provided with an apartment and occasional visits from a caregiver.
But the period of transition begins immediately upon their release from state homes, and many are ill-equipped to deal with such a drastic change. Some quickly find themselves back on the street.
The film traces the journey of one particular patient - a schizophrenic who is set out into the world unsupervised for the first time in his life. Despite clinical reports that he hears voices, he is suggested as an ideal candidate for release. The filmmakers interview his loved ones, caregivers and the patient himself to get a sense of the road blocks he's encountered along his journey to normalcy. There was no consistency of care following his release, his support checks arrived late, and his apartment had no running water. For every success story, it seems, there are many others who are struggling without proper supervision.
Right to Fail is a compassionate look at the systems we have in place to care for the most overlooked and misunderstood among us.