Mental health professionals wait for word on next steps
By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on January 11, 2009 2:00 AM
Among the challenges facing new Gov. Bev Perdue is dealing with concerns about the state's mental health system -- and local health officials are anxious to see what new leadership will mean to providers and patients.
To help her tackle that issue, Mrs. Perdue chose Lanier Cansler to be secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services.
Eastpointe director Ken Jones says Cansler is a good choice -- despite his history as the No. 2 person with the department during the original mental health reform years, and as a lobbyist for the much-maligned company ValueOptions Inc., which has been criticized for its loose oversight of payments to mental health providers.
Jones explained that he thinks Cansler's history with the department will actually be a benefit as officials continue to work to fix the system.
"I am happy she (Ms. Perdue) selected someone now, and not a year down the road so he can get started immediately. I think he has a good understanding of the system and will probably be good for the system," Jones said. "He has been here before and he's seen the failures of reform, and has a good understanding of it."
And, he continued, that hopefully will mean Cansler will come into the position with some good ideas on how to continue fixing those mistakes.
He also hopes that Cansler's legislative background will allow him to be a more vocal advocate to the General Assembly for the system's needs.
But Jones also has a list of items he hopes the new secretary will keep in mind as he gets down to work, even as he expects Cansler to first focus on correcting recent problems with the state's psychiatric facilities, including Cherry Hospital.
"I've got a long list, but there are two that are most important," Jones said.
The first is the need to continue to keep care and oversight close to the communities through agencies such as the local management entities like Eastpointe.
"I hope he understands the importance of local involvement and doesn't lose sight of that. That's really important in the system right now," he said.
And the second is the continued need for funding, especially for services for the developmentally delayed population.
"In that population, there are more and more needs presenting," he said. "We also need additional funding and equitable funding across the state.
"I know that's a huge request at this time, but there is a real need out there."
The heads of the county's other mental health facilities, though, didn't have as much to say.
Dr. Frank Farrell, director at the O'Berry Center, said his biggest hope with the new administration is for things to continue as they have.
"Of course we're all worried about the budget, but we feel good about O'Berry and the services we're providing," he said. "We just want to be able to continue in the direction we're going."
Carl Fitch of The Compass Group, the interim director of Cherry Hospital, declined to comment.
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