Op-Ed: Preserve the citizen’s voice in Connecticut mental health policy

Events in recent years have underscored the importance of making sure people with mental health concerns can get the help they need.  We’ve all seen the tragedies that can result when the system doesn’t work.  The governor, legislators and policy makers have focused on ways to ensure people get the services they need.

It’s important to make the right services available and accessible to those who need them.  So this seems a bad time to cut funding for the organizations that do this work.

Op-ed submit bugFor 40 years, Connecticut’s five regional mental health boards (RMHBs) have been a cost effective way to promote investment of mental health dollars where they do the most good.

At a total of $584,000 in state funding across Connecticut (just 7.5 cents per capita), the RMHBs are a bargain. With 1.5 staff each, and hundreds of dedicated volunteers, the RMHBs offer independent oversight of the mental health system, and engage people at the grassroots level to determine and monitor services in their communities.

At meetings of their local catchment area councils each month, the RMHBs gather the people most familiar with the system and the needs of the people it serves.  The councils include consumers and providers, family and community members.  They consult on what’s working and what isn’t.  They identify needs, highlight programs that are working, and propose practical solutions where needed.

Mental health programs are evaluated by the RMHBs to make sure they are living up to their purpose.  The results are reported to the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and to the legislature, so that policy decisions can be made using the best and most timely information.  This helps make sure our tax dollars are spent in the most effective way possible.

Just a couple of years ago, the Eastern Regional Mental Health Board was instrumental in identifying serious management problems in a local mental health care provider, which had not been delivering the services their funding was intended for.  By identifying and documenting this issue, the board helped save taxpayer dollars and get vital mental health services back on track for the people they were intended to benefit.

Cutting funding for the RMHBs is a little like saving money by deciding to forgo the warning lights and dials in your car.  It’s true that the car doesn’t need them to operate, at least at first.  But we all know what will happen: a little problem like a low oil level, if ignored, will turn into an expensive repair, or even a dangerous malfunction that can cause accidents.

The RMHBs are like the warning lights in our cars – a fully integrated, low cost, and effective way to keep the system running at its best.

Restoring the funding for the RMHBs would save money, not create an expense.  Keeping the RMHBs working will make sure that mental health services in Eastern Connecticut and throughout the state will continue to meet the needs in need of those services.

 Jennifer Gross is executive director of the Eastern Regional Mental Health Board. Marjorie Blizard  is executive director of the Robert E. Davidson Fund.

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