Candidates say the state can provide better mental health services at less cost

MIDDLETOWN–The state can save money and deliver improved mental health services by redesigning the system of diagnosing needs and providing care, the three gubernatorial candidates told the audience at a mental health forum Friday night.

Although the discussion turned to mental health generally, much of the focus was on children. Advocates started the session by telling the candidates that an estimated 200,000 children in the state have mental illness, but only 25 percent are properly diagnosed and receive the appropriate treatment.

gov mental health forum

Candidates Tom Foley, Tom Marsh and Dan Malloy at Friday’s mental health forum

Because so many adults and children do not receive the services they need, they often enter the system during a crisis at an institution or emergency room, at a cost many times higher than community-based treatment.

“We can catch mental illness early and treat it. … We can solve these problems much less expensively,” Republican Tom Foley told the audience of about 500 people, saying he will prioritize funding the nonprofits that provide this home-based care. “We cannot balance our budget on their backs. But I also see an opportunity to save money.”

Democrat Dan Malloy agreed, also suggesting having more health centers in schools to make sure every child is diagnosed appropriately.

“That should be a priority because it is a system that works,” he said.

Independent candidate Tom Marsh was a little more cautious about Malloy’s suggestion to have more school based health centers, calling it a potential unfunded mandate on schools and towns.

Judith Meyers, president of the Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut, said the state spends just over $200 million each year on adult and child mental health services..

All three gubernatorial candidates promised not to cut the services provided for those with mental illness in the state, but said they hope they can bring the price tag down for the state by transitioning to home care.

“We have to find a way through the budget crisis that does no further damage to the safety net,” Malloy said, also suggesting the relationship between non-profits be reorganized.

A recent report by the American Academy Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and adolescent Psychiatry recommends training pediatricians and school staff to assess and refer students to the proper programs when needed.

Jan VanTassel, executive director of the Connecticut Legal Rights Project and moderator of Friday’s event, said the state has not done enough to shift mental health care from institutions to the community.

“We wanted community based services,” VanTassel said. “We wanted you to invest in evidence based services. It’s not about spending more money, It’s about spending money smarter.”