Mental Health System Broken
If there's anything gun fans and gun foes can agree on in the wake of the Newtown massacre, it is that America must do more to address mental health issues.
Yet North Carolina, as it happens, has been moving in exactly the wrong direction in that department for years. The recent closing of Dorothea Dix Hospital, though perhaps justified for practical reasons, stands as a bleak symbol of that decline.
Now, Gov.-Elect Pat McCrory has gone on record as recognizing that problem and making strong indications that he will give it high priority after he takes over in January.
"We have a broken system regarding mental health," McCrory said. "This type of situation (the mass school killings) could occur here because of some people with serious mental health issues." This is one area, he said, "that maybe I can have an impact on as the next governor."
Here's hoping the governor-to-be meant what he was saying.
Decline Must Be Reversed
The most immediate thing McCrory could do to put his personal stamp on finding answers is to work closely with his fellow Republicans in charge of the General Assembly to develop a budget that reverses the long decline in mental health spending that has been going on for too many years.
Our state's mental health system is simply broken. And the cracks in it have widened into fissures every time previous legislatures, looking around for ways to make budgetary ends meet, have taken the relatively easy route of whacking the mental health budget. The mentally ill, after all, don't have much of a voice. There is relatively little political backlash when the funds for programs to help them end up getting slashed.
During the 1990s and since, the state has pulled the rug out from under the mental health community in rather disgraceful fashion. First the decision was made to move many mental patients out of state hospitals and supposedly "mainstream" them into community treatment programs. But the -follow-through in providing adequate funding to facilitate this well-intentioned transition has proved woefully inadequate.
Crisis Needs Top Priority
As a result of these and other failures, thousands of severely ill patients have been left in the lurch, often winding up in adult-care homes incapable of addressing their needs in meaningful fashion. Others have wound up in the emergency rooms of local hospitals - which, in many cases, are also poorly equipped to help them. And it isn't just the patients who potentially suffer in such situations. Security arrangements are often lacking, with the result that the well-being of fellow patients and caregivers is placed in jeopardy.
Only days ago, outgoing Gov. Beverly Perdue had to take an emergency measure freeing up $1 million to fund a one-month measure to provide care for group-home residents who became -ineligible for Medicare reimbursement.
Enough stopgap non-solutions. McCrory expressed the hope that Perdue's short-term fix will give him and the legislature time to "come up with a long-term solution." It will take longer than that, for sure. But here's hoping the executive and legislative branches will keep this crisis on the front burner from day one - and recognize that meaningful fixes won't come cheap.
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