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Sunday, March 24, 2013
As a mental health professional licensed to provide services in Virginia and as a veteran of community services board employment reaching back to the 1970s, I would offer a historical perspective supporting my strong negative reaction to the last line of your editorial (“Qualified gratitude on mental health,” March 17). This line is: “It’s time everyone stepped up to the plate.”
Historically, CSBs were adequately funded, hired licensed and trained professionals, were supported by appropriate public and private inpatient treatment facilities, and met the needs of vulnerable and dangerous people, as well as the mental health needs of anyone who came to the door.
Since the mid-1980s, Virginia’s elected representatives have systematically starved the system by budget cuts and, under the guise of keeping the mentally ill in the community as a more appropriate alternative, closed most inpatient treatment facilities. The rise of for-profit health care has erased 80-plus percent of inpatient treatment beds in private hospitals.
During this same time, the state spent multimillions on a prison system now begging for prisoners. Those of us who are aware of the increase in the number of homeless on our streets and in shelters can attest to the results of these misnamed “progressive” policies.
So why does your editorial writer suggest that, as the state chooses not to adequately fund an agency that serves and protects dangerous and vulnerable people, professionals should “step up to the plate” and volunteer our services?
Would we ask for volunteers to inspect food supplies if our legislators failed to fund this service? Should we expect untrained volunteers to show up and fill in as jail guards at county courthouses when the county is unable or unwilling to fill positions because of budget cuts?
And do you think there might be reasons why we don’t any longer depend on volunteers (aka mobs and vigilantes) to provide “justice” and protect the peace in our communities?
Do we expect trained professionals in all fields, including judges, engineers, teachers, M.D.s and nurses, to “step up to the plate” and offer gratis services to the state, despite the fact that in this economy particularly, the first priority of most workers is maximum effort on one’s own job supporting homes and families?
So why is mental health so often considered a charity case? Why is mental health care coverage more restricted by insurers than other health care coverage?
The editorial writer’s suggestion that unmet mental health care needs should be met by volunteers, even if they may be psychiatrists as implied, simply reflects ignorance of, or at best avoidance of the fact that mental illness, like physical illness, is a serious health issue that must be treated appropriately by trained professionals if it is not to become life-crippling and chronic.
Though I applaud those who work to provide gratis services, charity and volunteerism will not solve this problem any more than charity will adequately care for sufferers of cancer or heart disease.
Enlightened awareness that treatment for mental illness should be an equal and integral part of all health care policy, as well as in state funded health spending, seems a far better idea to this writer.
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