EDITORIAL: Mental Health

By NEMS Daily Journal

A forum Monday at 7 p.m. in the ICC-Tupelo technical education building multi-purpose room presents a potentially influential opportunity for public officials and advocates involved with providing care for mentally ill people in Lee County and the region to hear and support compelling facts about the dire costs of underfunding – harmful to mental health facilities/programs and patients in the state’s 2012 budget cycle.
Faced with a projected revenue shortfall measured against needs running in the tens of millions, both the Department of Mental Health and the independent network of community mental health centers face cuts that could curtail or shut down operations.
On the endangered list is the 50-bed North Mississippi State Hospital in Tupelo, an in-patient facility for treating people who have been admitted because they are deemed a danger to themselves, their families or others. A perpetual waiting list for its rooms and professional services sustains the case for its funding.
The 11 community mental health centers serve as a first line of treatment for patients needing care and who can function safely without hospitalization.
“I think mental health is going to be a major priority issue for the state Legislature,” said Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, who helped lead the charge to build North Mississippi State Hospital. “Public outcry has been so intense … the Legislature by hook or by crook will meet most of the needs of Department of Mental Health.”
Holland, a strong advocate for mental health services, is chairman of the Public Health and Human Services Committee and a member of the Appropriations Committee, excellent platforms for factual information and fruitful negotiation.
Those who warn that a lack of adequate funding will affect some of the most vulnerable in our state are correct. Many who need or are in the system as patients can’t be their own advocates. They must rely on supportive legislators, families, county-level and city-level elected officials, doctors, psychologists and others in counselor positions to help sustain care for their loved ones and friends who are mentally ill – and people with intellectual disabilities.
The Department of Mental Health had requested $20 million to provide a match to pull down federal Medicaid funds for the community centers.
Gov. Haley Barbour’s budget not only doesn’t fund the centers, but also cuts the overall Department of Mental Health Budget by 7.2 percent on top of not making up a loss of $17 million in federal stimulus funds.
The governor advocates some changes in the way mental health care is provided, but his budget proposal won’t get the job done under the current system or as he proposes, with less institutional care.
Barbour is powerful and persuasive, but he alone can’t set funding in concrete. The Legislature must confront the governor with money and the votes to fund what he obviously believes is, in part, expendable.