State budget cuts threaten the mentally ill and addicted

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Dear Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and state legislators:

I am opposed to the recent ill-advised budget cuts made in the areas of health care, social services and education, and I am engaged in a touch advocacy effort to see these cuts rescinded.

As of Sept. 18, these cuts included $64 million for the state Department of Social Services, $63.5 million in Medicaid and $8.5 million for the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

They also include $1 million in home and community services, $1.1 million for discharge-related services, $1.13 million for substance abuse disorders, $3.6 million for mental health disorders, $3.5 million for housing and homeless services and $2.4 million for education.

Cuts in these areas can gravely damage the recovery of persons with mental health and substance abuse disorders. The last time the governor announced budget cuts, he would have drastically cut the school-based clinics budget by $2 million just at the time the final report of the Sandy Hook Commission was presented to him on March 6. Since the Sandy Hook catastrophe of Dec. 14, 2012, there has been nearly one school shooting a week.
School shootings have long-term impacts on the community as a whole. A recent analysis of school shootings found that those involving a homicide reduced enrollment and test scores in the affected school.

Despite the ongoing threats to peace and security and in the face of the recommendations of the Sandy Hook Commission, these cuts have been ordered by the governor.

The state improvement plan in Healthy People 2020 spells out the priorities in mental health, alcohol and substance abuse. It lists a goal of improving overall health through access to quality behavioral health services that includes screening, early intervention, prevention and treatment.

This goal is important because mental and physical health are intricately connected. Mental illness is among the leading causes of disability in the U.S. Likewise, substance abuse affects individuals, families and communities and exacts substantial social, physical and mental costs. Mental health is, therefore, critical to the overall well-being of individuals, yet the governor has made deep cuts in this area.

Our most disadvantaged residents will be disproportionately affected by these draconian cuts. I urge you to advance the concerns of those we care about most. If we do, we have the opportunity of making Connecticut the national leader in working in a comprehensive manner across the whole spectrum of bio-pyscho-social determinants of the health and well-being of our entire population based on the findings of the Sandy Hook Commission.

Another important positive factor can be the impact of the expansions of health-care coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Harold Pollack, a University of Chicago professor, has described the Medicaid expansion under the ACA as “the single most important measure to expand access to mental health and addiction treatment.”

A recent state law requires the Department of Children and Families to develop a comprehensive plan to meet the mental, emotional and behavioral health needs of children. The plan will not produce nation-leading values if these budget cuts remain in place.

We can choose to be among the leaders, if not the national leader, in addressing the mental health needs of children, adolescents and families. On March 6, when the Sandy Hook report was released, Malloy said the state must find ways to fund more mental health services. Gov. Malloy, you are the captain of the ship of state. Don’t leave our state high and dry in light of this law and the diligently researched Sandy Hook recommendations.

I hope other residents will join me in calling for these budget cuts to be rescinded. The numbers are dire and the cuts are draconian. Please add your voices for all those who strive to keep their body and soul together, sustain their families, grow their children from fragile shoots to sturdy saplings and strengthen the cohesiveness and stabilities of their communities.

Dr. Velandy Manohar is a charter member of the Connecticut Multicultural Health Partnership. A native of India, he has been a physician in the U.S. since 1967.

What do you think?

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