Spending slashes in the past few years have gutted the mental health system, and in the words of one Republican governor, are “absolutely immoral.” The recession has taken a toll on state revenues and for some lawmakers there is a renewed zeal to shrink government.
But at what cost?
The tragic events at Chardon High School near Cleveland and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut demand we take stock of what priority we place on the health and safety of our children and community and how we treat people with a mental illness and/or addiction.
In the past five years services for mental health and substance use disorders in Allen, Auglaize, and Hardin Counties have been devastated by losses of more than $2 million. That represents a 20 percent decrease. Imagine the impact on your own household budget if your salary were cut by 20 percent.
Despite these losses, the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board has been able to maintain 24-hour access to care through the We Care Regional Crisis Center, free diagnostic assessments for children at Family Resource Centers, and the ability to walk in to see a counselor at Coleman Behavioral Health Services any day of the week, including weekends. Yet demand continues to increase, and unless funding for these vital services increases, we will see more and more of our colleagues, neighbors and loved ones who suffer with a mental illness or addiction end up in hospitals, asylums and jails.
There is some movement to help. This month Governor Kasich’s allocated $5 million dollars statewide for children and families facing a mental health crisis. It is a step in the right direction.
Mental illness and addiction can be prevented. We know what to do. People do recover. The need is real. The time to act is now.
Here is a simple two-step approach for improving Ohio’s behavioral health safety net:
• First, there must be a significant investment of additional General Revenue Funding in the upcoming state budget for alcohol, drug addiction and mental health prevention, treatment and support services. All of us, regardless of our ability to pay or eligibility for Medicaid, need access to treatment and recovery supports so that we all have the opportunity to work and live a meaningful, productive life. Providing this funding will help ensure essential services for children and adults to help keep our families healthy, stable and strong.
• Second, the governor and the Ohio General Assembly must further ensure safe and stable children and families in Ohio by providing additional access to mental health and addiction services by expanding Medicaid to 138 percent of the federal poverty level as allowed by the Affordable Care Act. Compelling research shows that individuals with mental illnesses die an average of 25 years earlier than those without a mental illness, and that drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental deaths, with overdose deaths in Ohio increasing by more than 370 percent since 1999.
These two steps will help Ohioans in need of behavioral health services to recover and thrive. And this action will secure Ohio’s place as one of the most favorable states in the nation for new businesses, by giving employers access to a mentally healthy and drug-free workforce.
We strongly encourage Governor Kasich and Ohio’s General Assembly to do the right thing by investing in the mental health and well-being of our citizens which is an investment in the economic growth and stability of our community and our families.
Michael Schoenhofer is the Executive Director of Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Allen, Auglaize, and Hardin Counties.