You know how to lobby, don't you Stevie?
In 2001, North Carolina undertook a massive reform of its mental health system. The network of publicly funded providers had grown bureaucratic, bloated and stagnant. While individual practitioners continued, in most cases, to provide excellent care, the system was buckling under its own weight and lacked innovation.
The mental health system reform was intended to improve services and cut costs by introducing competition. In this regard the plan was a success, hundreds of private providers sprung up across the state to provide psychiatry, counseling, psychological services, case management, day treatment, job training, and community based services to mentally ill children and adults.
The problem, of course, is that despite being dead last in the nation in spending on mental health, state legislators wanted to cut more deeply, more lethally. They changed the definitions of the services they reimbursed. They slashed the rates at which doctors and therapists were paid, driving many away from providing services to impoverished children and families.
. . .
The state decided to kill mental health services once and for all on the day before Good Friday. Mere hours before the state would commence a 4-day holiday, word came from the Division of Medical Assistance that reimbursement rates for Community Support services would be cut by a third, from $60/hour to $40/hour.
Community Support services, a new service definition created by the state les than a year ago, allow clients to receive needed help in life skills (balancing a checkbook, etc.), accessing resources like child care, or practicing behavioral skills vital to living independently. Without these services, many clients will end up unemployed, expelled, or institutionalized.
The state, unwilling to try systems that have worked in other states, is going to kill the last few private providers by forcing them into this choice: Hire only low-wage workers who will provide sub-par services, or lose money and go out of business.
Contact info for the members of House Committee on Mental Health Reform can be found here. The contact list for the corresponding Senate Committee is here.
Details on the state's actions are available here and here.
I've been trying to find a dollar figure for how much the state hopes to save by this action, but there doesn't seem to be one published. It would be interesting to see how it compares to the $260 million tax break given to Google to provide a couple of hundred jobs in Lenoir County.
UPDATE: See this post at Blue NC for a rundown on the issues to raise with legislators, and a sample letter to send.
UPDATE 2: From Blue NC at 11:40 am
(W)e shouldn't call the legislature. That the problems stem from secretary Odom and Governor Easley.
The recent cut was not through the budget process. It was directly from the Secretary's office.
Here's the numbers: 919-733-4534 for Secretary Odom. Don't let them give you another number. You'll be put on hold forever.
Here's the Governor's number: 919-733-4240.
Apparently, they're trying to destroy the system so that some company can come in and "fix" it. It's been done in several states. We need make sure Easley and Odom know we're on to them.
So there you have it. Two phone calls to make. It probably wouldn't hurt if your legislators hear from you on this either. They can put pressure on the Governor and the Secretary at least as effectively as we can.