The Salem News
---- — To the editor:
Gov. Deval Patrick received largely positive reviews for his recently announced final budget plan for fiscal year 2015. Most observers praised the budget plan for its evenhanded treatment of state services and new funding for the beleaguered child welfare agency.
But behind the numbers rests a frayed safety net for thousands of Bay State families who have been needlessly placed at risk. Following years of level funding and underfunding, the governor’s proposed budget for the Department of Mental Health (DMH) and the Department of Public Health/Bureau of Substance Abuse Services (DPH/BSAS) actually cuts spending at a time when demand for its services has never been higher.
As providers of critical services for men, women and children with behavioral health disorders, we see that the need for these services is greater than ever in Massachusetts. Currently, 50.9 percent of adults in Massachusetts living with a mental illness do not receive treatment. Of the 37,000 youths per year in Massachusetts reporting at least one major depressive episode, less than half received treatment each year between 2008 and 2012, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
The SAMHSA report provides dramatic context for the gap between need for behavioral health services and access to those services. The report found that, from 2008-2012, nearly 200,000 Massachusetts residents were found to have a serious mental illness.
In every community, we see the effects on individuals and families who suffer from mental health and addiction disorders but cannot get access to the help they need.
Coupled with that obvious need is the turmoil created by new state and federal health insurance laws and rules, which have created uncertainty for both patients and providers.
In the North Shore region of the state, the Institute for Health and Recovery serves a growing population of clients. When the funding and services are there, we can make a dramatic difference in peoples’ lives. When it’s not, unfortunately, we see the devastating effects on families and communities. People can’t work, they can’t get through the day, and they have nowhere to turn for help. Too often, they end up in hospital emergency rooms, or local jails.
Despite the obvious need for behavioral health services, Governor Patrick proposed cutting funds for successful programs. If implemented, his cuts to DMH would force 250 adults and 215 kids and families to lose services that enable them to live independently in their homes and communities. Hundreds of families whose stability is tied to these services would be thrown into turmoil.
Another 100 individuals currently languish in DMH inpatient facilities, although they have been deemed “discharge ready.” But the state does not have sufficient funds to provide community placements.
In the area of addiction services, the governor proposed cutting $3 million from the BSAS and $300,000 from the successful jail diversion program for individuals addicted to opiates.
The lack of access to services shows up most dramatically in the field of addiction treatment. While 7.7 percent of residents aged 21 and older reported heavy alcohol use within the prior month, 95.8 percent did not receive treatment for alcohol abuse.
A snapshot of a single day helps illustrate the demand for addiction services.
On a single day in 2012, 45,727 people were in treatment for substance use in Massachusetts. Forty-eight percent were being treated for drug use only, but 14.2 percent reported treatment for alcohol use only, and 37.2 percent received treatment for both drugs and alcohol use.
Clearly, there is a gap between available funds and the need for services. But that frayed safety net has ensnared huge numbers of men, women and children who can be reached and helped with a balanced approach to budgeting at the state level.
It’s up to the Legislature to reverse Governor Patrick’s cuts and demonstrate Massachusetts’ commitment to the individuals and families who rely each day on the caregivers, counselors and community-based programs that enable them to live healthy, productive lives.
Cynthia R. H. King
Director of human resources
Institute for Health and Recovery
Editor’s note: The author is a resident of Danvers.