Sunday, January 9, 2011

What Ohio's Mental Health System Needs Now

It's been a week in which a homeless man in Columbus with a dream voice turned into an instant celebrity. A week in which a person who appears to be psychotic took Sarah Palin at her word. A week in which Ohio welcomes a new governor who has a brother with a serious mental illness. 

The mental health system is this country is broken. Recognizing that Ohio is beyond broke, NAMI Ohio has called on Gov.-elect Kasich to provide sufficient funding for community-based care for Ohioans with severe and persistent mental illness.

"Not only is this the compassionate thing to do, it will save money by reducing the use of expensive and inappropriate institutionalization such as hospitals, nursing homes, prisons and jails," NAMI writes. The budget platform that NAMI endorses has five components:

  1. Ohio's Medicaid program discriminates against people with mental illnesses because it doesn't pay for mental health services the same way it pays for physical health services. SOLUTION: Move the responsibility for paying Medicaid to the state so local communities can concentrate resources on people with the greatest need. 
  2. Ohio is in violation of the Mental Health Act of 1988 because it does not use the dollars saved by moving people out of state hospitals to support them with community services. SOLUTION (well, sorta): Keep the current level of funding in the state fund for community mental health services. 
  3. Psychotic people don't get well when they are homeless, hungry and alone. SOLUTION:  Include language in the state statute directing local board to provide critical services to adults and children with chronic mental illness before they can spend state or local dollars on less critical services.
  4. Access to medication means the difference between sanity and insanity, life and death. SOLUTION: Prohibit limited on access to mental health medications for people with severe, persistent mental illness.
  5. Because there are not enough beds in Ohio for psychiatric hospitalization, patients are released before they are stable and not linked to community services. SOLUTION: Provide incentives to hospitals that accept Medicaid to provide more psychiatric beds. Prohibit state hospitals from releasing unstable patients and for them to link patients to community services before release.
Ohio dealt devastating cuts to mental health services last time. Gov. Strickland says he lost sleep over it; others lost family members over it. Let's hope Gov. Kasich, who should know better, does better.

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