SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

April 22, 2013

Column: Underfunding of health care must end

Kevin Norton and Carla M. Saccone
The Salem News

---- — The state budget debate kicks off later this month with consideration by the House of Representatives of a spending plan that will define our priorities and values as a commonwealth. Over the past few years, it has become increasingly clear that we have underfunded public health and human services, with disastrous consequences.

In particular, individuals with mental health and addiction disorders have fallen behind because of a lack of investment in the critical services that help them live productive, stable lives.

We don’t believe this trend truly represents our values here in Massachusetts.

For too long, services funded by the Departments of Mental Health and Public Health have been level-funded, or supported at “maintenance level.” This is not nearly enough. We can do better. It’s a matter of commitment by the state to help our friends, relatives and neighbors.

As a result of this limited investment, thousands of individuals and families are unable to access services and supports for mental health and/or substance use disorders.

We start by asking “How much do we have?” rather than “What do we need?”

This is a crucial year for Massachusetts to commit additional financial resources for mental health, addiction treatment and other human services. We need to ensure that adults and children with mental illness and/or substance use disorders can access treatment and have the ability to live successfully in their own communities.

That is why the Association for Behavioral Healthcare, a statewide association of community-based mental health and addiction treatment provider organizations, joined with the Campaign for our Communities, a coalition of community organizations, labor unions and faith organizations working together to strengthen the commonwealth’s economy and to improve the quality of life for Massachusetts families, including their access to health and human services. To achieve these goals, this broad coalition knows that smart investments in our people and our communities are essential.

ABH and the Campaign support measures to raise new revenues — funds that will support vital public health and human services programs.

Gov. Deval Patrick is taking a step in the right direction by proposing much-needed revenue increases and increasing funding for deserving programs in the 2014 budget. Mental health and addiction treatment programs are slated for modest increases in funding.

Community-based mental health and addiction treatment services depend on public funding to serve individuals in need.

At Lahey Health Behavioral Services, we serve more than 50,000 individuals annually while employing 1,800 people. We provide vital services such as emergency psychiatric care, outpatient mental health counseling, family services and addiction treatment in large part because of funding from state government.

Children’s Friend and Family Services is a 175-year-old agency that works with more than 5,000 families and children annually. We provide child and family outpatient mental health counseling, family support, and parent education throughout the North Shore.

Now it is up to legislators to demonstrate a commitment to supporting these services.

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Kevin Norton is president and CEO of Lahey Behavioral Health Services. Carla M. Saccone is president and CEO of Children’s Friend and Family Services. They are board members of the Association for Behavioral Healthcare.