The following is an editorial from the Mankato Free Press.
It was a gathering that stirred both feelings of pride and sadness.
One hundred or so professionals gathered at South Central College recently to discuss the state of mental health care being delivered in Minnesota and locally.
Over 220,000 people receive mental health care from the state, and the passion among those providers to do the best for the most fragile of our society was evident. They talked of the area’s strength when it comes to providing some aspects of mental health care. Specifically, there were accolades for the Mankato crisis center, especially for its ability to take patients without a referral. Other successes included the drug courts and the heroic efforts of county case managers working against psychiatric hospitalization whenever possible.
But then the litany of things standing in the way of being the best was also discussed.
Access to such health care is limited especially for those on public insurance. Some doctors will only see a limited number of patients on Medical Assistance. But even those who have adequate coverage have long wait times.
Access can also mean just finding transportation to the right provider and there are far too few of them.
And we as a society still don’t understand the worth of preventative treatment. Instead, we wait for a crisis that gets immediate treatment — but when the crisis ends, so does further care.
Yet the health care professionals, when asked about immediate needs, responded with calls for more hospital beds for people in crisis. And there was a crying need for more providers with a further plea to reduce the amount of paperwork and restrictions required by the state. And, of course, affordable housing when unavailable just forces those needing care into shelters or in the streets.
But another flaw that became evident in the discourse was the lack of integrated services between mental health care providers, hospitals which do not make mental health care a priority, physicians who are poorly trained to handle such care, law enforcement (few of which are adequately trained) and even schools. None of this progress can be made without adequate funding.
The sadness comes when you realize the clientele for this group have the weakest voice politically. Only those who genuinely care speak the loudest and the longest. The work of separate individuals such as Sen. Kathy Sheran — who has championed this cause tirelessly — can go only as far unless other legislators grow sympathetic to the cause.
But it is no match for the army of well-heeled lobbyists when the state Legislature talks about allocating limited state resources. And politicians like to talk about the “bloated” Health and Human Services department but only haltingly hesitate when funding sports palaces or interchanges to speed along their commute.
Discussions are happening now among lawmakers on what issues the Legislature should tackle in 2015. Providing better care and treatment for our mentally ill should be chief among them.
Reprinted with permission.
WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?
If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at email@example.com.)