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Memo to states: Mental health services need money, so pull out your checkbook

Posted Aug 23 2008 3:21pm
Waiting lists for mental health services are growing, just as money is disappearing.

No shock there.

But, in the midst of budget season for most states, why is mental health constantly left off the table - particularly when the state reaches a budget deal and realizes it has enough money?

Not only is left off the table, but it's also the first thing that's cut when public officials are scrounging for more cash.

Maybe each state government needs to realize that mental health services can be part of the solution - helping people get back on their feet, turning people into functional members of society, keeping them out of jail - rather than part of the problem.

In New Jersey, for instance, Governor Corzine and the state Legislature have a budget deal. But the New Jersey Association of Mental Health Agencies Inc. called on the Legislature to provide an adequate contract increase to cover the expense of skyrocketing costs and to pay a livable wage to struggling employees.

“Because of inadequate resources, adults and children in need of mental health services often must wait weeks or months for services when they turn to non-profit mental health care providers for help. Our organizations have experienced double digit increases in insurance, fuel and energy,” said Megann Anderson, associate executive director of NJAMHA.

Anderson noted that the average starting salary of a community mental health care worker is only $30,000 and that state workers with comparable positions earn as much as 40 percent more.

As a result, vacancy and turnover rates are increasing in the community and individuals in need of mental health treatment and services often face long waits for services.

“Adults and children who cannot access service on a timely basis can deteriorate and end up in crisis, needing much more expensive treatment and services,” said Anderson. “We would not think of making a heart patient wait until he experiences a massive heart attack before providing treatment. We must end this discrimination against those with a mental illness.”
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