Thursday, July 27, 2006

HD 136 candidate Perera speaks out on Georgia's mental health crisis

MENTAL HEALTH in Georgia ~ written by Beth Perera, Democratic candidate for HD 136 7-27-2006
Georgia is ranked 46th in the nation for Mental Health services funding.
There is a huge divide between those who plan and organize our Mental Health services and those who are expected to provide services. Currently, our overworked and under funded providers are expected to work miracles on practically non existent budgets. So what? So... this affects every one of us. When mentally ill patients lack medication and treatment, they become disoriented or dangerous. When there is no place to put them (no beds in Mental hospitals, no residential homes to house them, no treatment centers available), they are turned out on the streets. I have heard about numerous cases of patients who, within days or even hours, have either committed crimes, become injured (or dead), caused harm to themselves or others, because they had no place to go, no medication to keep them stable, or simply lacked the ability to care for themselves. We would never, as a society, cast children out on the streets to fend for themselves, but that is exactly what we are doing to our mentally ill. WE CAN DO BETTER.
What happens when a mental health patient is in crisis in our area? Well, there is this "hotline" that can be called, that will connect you with a provider, and you then assume your situation will be handled. In a perfect world, yes. But in reality, the budget for our Mental Health system has been cut so severely, that even some of the most basic services are no longer available. Facilities have been closed, services stripped, staff cut, and all the while our wonderful, passionate, caring providers have been left with less and less and expected to do more. This "hotline" itself took $6 million from the Mental Health budget with lofty claims to be the solution to mental health needs. However, the hotline is nothing more than a middle man between those who need care and the care providers. Put that $6 million back into the budget and maybe some of the providers will actually be able to PROVIDE care.
Our own Phoenix Center in Warner Robins just lost funding for its Intensive Day Treatment services. This program provided a wholesome place for consumers to go during the day for counseling and activities. This tragic cut comes not long after a previous funding cut which completely eliminated the Phoenix Center that was located in Crawford County. Did you know that for our ENTIRE STATE, only 32 beds have been allocated for kids with substance abuse problems? Each community likely needs more beds than 32 beds, so that ridiculously low number supposedly accounting for the whole state is a slap in the face to both providers and tax payers.
Ask any Sheriff how our lack of Mental Health services impacts the law enforcement system. 50-60% of the kids who come through the court system have mental health problems. TREATMENT of their mental health disturbances would keep them out of our criminal court system. We can either treat our mentally ill citizens in Mental Health facilities, or we can allow our mental health services to further deteriorate and have our prison systems handle these patients at a much higher cost. I even heard stories of mental patients waiting so long on waiting lists for treatment, that they intentionally committed a crime. They received faster treatment in the prison system than on the outside. WE CAN DO BETTER.
Mental Health providers are given unreasonable goals, mandated by written contracts, that include outcomes and circumstances over which they have no control. They are told how many of their patients are allowed to be homeless, how many days their patients are allowed to miss school, how many of their patients are allowed to get into trouble with the law.... as of a provider has any control whatsoever over these outcomes.
I sat at this morning's meeting [Tranformation to Recovery Initiative Community Focus Groups] in Warner Robins taking notes fast and furiously, shaking my head in disbelief and wondering what in the world is keeping these providers in such a wounded system. Almost laughably, today's meeting was to be about "Recovery," how we can help Mental Health patients "recover" and go on to have happy, productive lives. That's fine and dandy, but we never even got to that topic, as 100% of the discussion focused on the broken system. Our Mental Health system has to be fixed first, before we can even begin to talk about Recovery and long term aid for our patients. The health and safety of our communities depends on this. We cannot as a community allow our mental health patients to go unserviced, untreated, unmedicated, for all of us will suffer and pay the price if we continue to neglect this area. No more dodging the bullet, no more looking the other way. It is time to create solutions and FUND our Mental Health system so that our providers can provide services to our mentally ill. We can pay to treat them as mental health patients, or we can pay considerably more to treat them as prisoners. The choices are somewhat flexible, but they are not optional. WE MUST DO BETTER.

Beth Perera ~ Candidate for House District 136

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