December 22, 2016, Guest column: Louisiana’s mentally ill need health care, not a jail cell
Healing Minds NOLA
December 22, 2016 at 2:31pm ·
I wanted to take this opportunity to bring y'all up to speed on some key information regarding recent changes to federal mental health laws.
First some quick background:
About a year and a half ago, in response to an RFI issued by the State of LA, I submitted a proposal for the adaptive reuse of Big Charity Hospital to create a 'One-Stop Shop' mental healthcare and research center of excellence based on the overwhelming need to address the lack of long-term support resources for seriously and severely mentally ill people. [ http://bit.ly/2hhg169 ]
In putting together the project, it became clear that without some policy and funding redirection dedicated to the treatment and care for our most vulnerable population, regardless of the location, the idea was doable - but difficult.
For that reason, I joined with a group of concerned family mental healthcare advocates to back a Bill named the "Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act" introduced by Congressman Tim Murphy [R-PA] who, at the time, was a lone voice in the wilderness. [https://murphy.house.gov/uploads/Summary.pdf]
In my excitement when I learned about the Bill I recall saying - "if this bill passes, it will be like Christmas for Families caught in limbo between the broken mental healthcare system and broken criminal justice system."
Little did I know that, after much "sausage making" it would actually be Christmas when mental health reforms were signed into law by President Obama!
St. Charles Parish Sheriff Greg Champagne - President of the National Sheriffs' Association - wrote a fantastic OpEd on Dec. 20th about what the passage of mental health reforms in the 21st Century Cures Act [http://bit.ly/2gAOgoO] will mean for Louisiana and the insurmountable challenges Sheriffs are faced with to properly treat and care for mentally ill people in our jails. Click on the article below :)
"National sheriffs have sounded the alarm to Congress for years, but they have been bogged down in inactivity until now. Members from both sides of the aisle and both houses of Congress have come together to help solve this problem. The bipartisan group, spearheaded by U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, has put forth legislation that would address many of these issues and take the burden off of local law enforcement. It would also reduce the reliance on our prisons by strengthening the authority of the Department of Health and Human Services. By doing so, it will provide people more access to services which are dearly needed, and would provide more grants for states to expand treatment and also training of mental health professionals. Finally, the bill expands jail diversion programs and homelessness services, which in turn lessen stress on law enforcement."
Sheriff Champagne also cites the Treatment Advocacy Center [TAC] in his piece. I cannot emphasize enough how great a roll TAC played in creating and supporting key provisions in the Bill. The most important thing mental health advocates, service providers and legislators can do right now is listen to this conference call - http://www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org/…/rethinking-me…/3713 - to learn of all the tools that have been unleashed in order to provide alternatives to jails, park benches and coffins for people and families suffering with untreated serious mental illness, and to hear of how we're going to work to get additional needed reforms!
What about Medicaid Expansion?
In case you missed this short PBS NEWSHOUR interview with Congressman Murphy about his bipartisan legislation - "How the big biomedical bill advances U.S. mental health care" - please take a minute to hear him in his own voice describe "the state of mental health care in the U.S. and what this law attempts to accomplish" - http://www.pbs.org/…/big-biomedical-bill-advances-u-s-ment…/ -
and make the following statement:
REP. TIM MURPHY: Well, I fought too hard for this. I have worked in this field for 40 years.
I welcome the teamwork of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to say we have to make sure we preserve this. The reason it’s so important is, if we’re going to find cost savings in retooling and reforming health care, a lot of it comes from the integrated care of the mentally ill, with mental illness, behavioral illness, and physical illness.
When you find someone with a chronic illness, they’re twice the rate of depression among them. And untreated depression doubles their health care costs. When you hone in and treat both at the same time by integrating behavioral and physical medicine, when the physician takes charge, when you have capitated plans, so it’s incentive for the doctors to do all that, you actually can reduce spending for those people by about 40 percent to 50 percent, while you’re providing better care.
So, this is a lesson I want to make sure my colleagues to know. This is the thing what we ought to be doing. It’s good with compassion. It’s good morally. And it saves money.
"WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But do you worry that if the ACA is repealed, that a lot of what you’re trying to do, lauded work here, is going to get thrown out?
REP. TIM MURPHY: You’re talking to someone who has spent the last four years in the trenches fighting for this, and a lot of members who were part of this team, too. I don’t see us just throwing this out. We will work together to make sure these provisions stay in. And even so, part of that concern is what states are going to do with Medicaid money, with block grants."
WE HAVE ALL worked too hard to bring much needed care for our loved ones who suffer with unspeakable discrimination and tragedy due to the mental health industry's abdication of it's responsibility to provide programs and services that target serious and severe mental illness. It isn't easy to turn around a giant freighter, but this Christmas we saw it move!
May you all celebrate this holiday season in peace, harmony and happiness.
Janet and the crew at Healing Minds NOLA