11/01/09 — The patients: State's mental health care mistakes have real, human consequences

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The patients: State's mental health care mistakes have real, human consequences

They are the faces you don't see every day -- the families who try to work their lives around caring for a mentally handicapped child.

Some of them have been doing so for years -- loving children who are in their 20s and 30s now, or older, but who will never be able to live on their own.

The services provided for them might seem like just dollars to the rest of us, but they represent freedom, relief and a chance for a special person to have a purpose in life, a place to go.

And now, because of state budget cuts, they are facing a loss of services, of support and of care they need.

These families are the real victims of the state's mismanagement of the mental health care system.

The chaos created by an unfortunate gobbledygook of so-called reforms, which nobody understood or could really justify as the right plan to make the system move more efficiently, was created by a state bureaucrat who is long-gone now -- amusingly enough, to Washington.

And now, a few years later, we are finding what most of us thought was likely when then Secretary of Health and Human Services Carmen Hooker Odom first suggested the idea -- that it was another ill-conceived plan by someone who simply did not understand the magnitude of what she was suggesting.

Perhaps creating workable mental health care reform was another of those duties then Gov. Mike Easley was too busy to pay attention to or to handle himself.

But now we are faced with a dilemma. With a budget that is looking very much like a sieve, we are faced with deciding where limited tax dollars are going to go. Mental health cuts seem like an easy target -- there have been questions about the care provided in some areas and cutbacks affect only a small percentage of the population.

But what we have to remember as we watch the proceedings and rhetoric in Raleigh and Washington is that there are people behind every dollar, every cut.

This state cannot afford to fund every program and will never make everyone happy. But we can insist as its citizens that serious efforts are made to cull more of the waste that makes cuts like this necessary. Perhaps there are a few more places officials could look for extra dollars before more are taken from N.C. families.

The money spent prosecuting/defending errant state officials might be a good place to start.

Published in Editorials on November 1, 2009 12:09 AM