Archived Story

Must invest in behavioral health safety net

Published 9:31am Friday, January 25, 2013

With the incidents like the Chardon High School Shooting and the Sandy Hook elementary School shootings fresh in our mind, it’s time for Ohio to really take stock of the safety net services available in Ohio for adults and children with a mental illness and/or addiction.

It’s clear that the safety net for mental health and substance use disorder services in Ohio has been decimated by the losses in funding over the past decade, leaving many Ohioans without the community-based services they need. Additionally, the ability to provide psychiatric hospitalization is limited.

When services are scarce, fewer people get the help they need and more mental illness and addiction is left untreated. This situation did not occur overnight; it has accumulated over a number of years, and as Governor Kasich stated when he announced the new allocation of $5 million dollars to help children and families facing a mental health crisis, “we have to be concerned about the safety net that exists in our communities for the mentally ill.”

Ohioans need to know that the recovery rates for mental illness and addiction are comparable to those of physical illnesses. We know with certainty that treatment works and people recover!

Individuals with a mental illness and/or addiction, when receiving appropriate treatment and recovery support services like housing, vocational and peer support services can and do recover.

Recovering individuals become productive members of our local communities by working, paying taxes, and keeping their families intact and healthy.

We in Ohio must move into action with direction and purpose to work together to make mental illness and addiction prevention, treatment and recovery supports a statewide priority and to eliminate the stigma that keeps many from seeking and receiving treatment.

We know that in order to reduce the likelihood of similar events such as those that occurred in Chardon, Ohio, and Newtown, Conn., Ohio must have a robust and accessible mental health and addiction services continuum of care, including prevention and wellness, screenings, engagement, crisis services, outpatient treatment, inpatient treatment, and community support services.

Ohio can do better. The need is real. The time is now.

We propose the following two-step approach for improving Ohio’s behavioral health safety net:

First, the state must make a significant investment of additional General Revenue Funding in the state fiscal year 14-15 state budget for alcohol, drug addiction and mental health prevention, treatment and support services.

All Ohioans, regardless of ability to pay or eligibility for Medicaid, need access to treatment and recovery supports such as a place to live, transportation, peer and vocational supports so they have the opportunity to work and live a meaningful, productive life.

Providing this funding will help ensure essential services for children and adults to help keep Ohio’s families healthy, stable and strong.

Only 40 percent of children and adults struggling with a mental illness can access treatment. Even worse, only 10 percent of youth and adults with substance abuse disorders get needed treatment.

Additionally, individuals with untreated mental illness and substance abuse have total health care costs that are double those without behavioral health conditions.

By appropriately funding Ohio’s behavioral health safety net, we can greatly reduce the number of people in our jails and prisons, and reduce the number of individuals with mental illness crowding our hospital emergency rooms and the homeless living on the streets. With more appropriate funding up front, we have the opportunity to save both lives and dollars.

Second, we encourage the Governor and the Ohio General Assembly to further ensure safe and stable children and families in Ohio by providing additional access to mental health and addiction services by expanding Medicaid to 138 percent of the federal poverty level as allowed by the Affordable Care Act.

Compelling research shows that individuals with mental illnesses die an average of 25 years earlier than those without a mental illness, and that drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental deaths, with overdose deaths in Ohio increasing by more than 370 percent since 1999.

Additionally, we know that having health insurance significantly improves health, quality of life, and mortality rates and it is significant to note that for some Ohioans expanding Medicaid to 138 percent of the federal poverty level will be the first time they have ever been covered under a health insurance plan.

These two steps will help Ohioans in need of behavioral health services to recover and thrive.

Additionally, they will secure Ohio’s place as one of the most favorable states in the nation for new businesses, by giving employers access to a mentally healthy and drug-free workforce.

We recognize that Governor Kasich and Ohio’s General Assembly have many difficult decisions to make in the 14-15 biennial budget, but we strongly believe that investing in the health and well-being of Ohio’ citizens is not only the right thing to do for Ohioans, it is a sound investment in helping Ohio lead the nation on the path to economic recovery.


Cheri Walter is the executive director of Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities.



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