EDITORIAL: Passion for a cause

By NEMS Daily Journal

An impressive, standing-room-only turnout of citizens alarmed about the potential inadequacy of mental health services and funding in the region provided clear direction about priorities for a dozen legislators Monday night. Those legislators will almost certainly face a gubernatorial veto if they adequately fund mental health’s programs and facilities.
The 400-plus who crowded the main conference room at Itawamba Community College’s Technical Education building in Tupelo included some of the patients and clients of public mental health services in the region. Most of the others were family and friends of people “in the system” – in residential centers, in community-based programs and in affiliated programs receiving at least partial state support.
In sum, officials said about 100,000 Mississippians use the state’s mental health network – and most arguably have few if any alternatives that are easily available or affordable.
Compelling testimony – freely and passionately offered by former patients, current patients, parents, professionals and friends – kept most of the audience alternately in riveted attention or in standing ovations – for two and a half hours. Many would have stayed longer had the meeting not been adjourned at 9:30 p.m. because of the hour.
The meeting revealed deep alarm about all levels of mental health care – residential centers like North Mississippi Regional Center in Oxford, in-patient treatment facilities like North Mississippi State Hospital in Tupelo, and the community-based and/or affiliated programs serving a diverse patient/client base.
The financial bottom line is that the system needs $37 million more in budget year 2012, beginning July 1, just to stay even if no additional cuts are put in force. But if Gov. Haley Barbour’s proposed reductions are enacted, the shortfall for maintaining services would be $68 million.
As pointed out, the state has about $500 million in reserve, and it doesn’t have to be spent as the governor proposes.
The political picture is this: Funding for mental health care is about policy, which is almost always about politics, and it is clearly arguable that Barbour places what he perceives as the best financial plan for the state above human needs demanding more than “equal” treatment.
The governor’s position doesn’t make him immoral or unethical, but it puts him at odds with a sizable, vocal and engaged statewide constituency in strong disagreement with him – and possibly with legislators who support him.
We wish the governor had attended Monday and met with those deeply concerned people face-to-face.