Easley and the mentally ill
Editorials implying governor didn't act are `flat wrong,' a top aide says
From Dan Gerlach, Gov. Mike Easley's senior policy adviser for fiscal affairs:
While editorials in your newspaper (Feb. 26, "Playing with lives") and others have been busy engaging in finger pointing to blame the current problems in our state's mental health system, rest assured that Gov. Mike Easley and his administration have been working to make sure it gets fixed.
It is clear that the rapid change in the mental health system led to problems, no doubt. But to insinuate that nothing has been done, or that these problems were ignored, is flat wrong. Regardless of what has happened in the past, we want to remain focused on solving problems for those in need of services. Consider the following:
• In 2006, Gov. Easley recommended, and the General Assembly supported, almost $100 million in additional funding to support the mental health system, including the replacement of lost federal funds for the developmentally disabled.
• This year, the governor ordered additional resources be made available to keep a state presence at Dix Hospital in conjunction with Wake County.
• Last year, the state Department of Health and Human Services and the administration recognized that some mental health community service providers were exploiting the system, inflating charges and wasting tax dollars. I informed the reporter in an interview that the governor demanded that the department take immediate action to audit the finances and practices of providers, adjust rates in cooperation with responsible providers, open fraud investigations, and toughen criteria for would-be providers and to screen inappropriate service requests. These changes started in early 2007, as soon as it became apparent that community support was open to abuse.
• In May 2007, Gov. Easley designated Dempsey Benton to be the state Secretary of Health and Human Services and specifically directed him to produce a set of proposals that will bring effectiveness and accountability to the state's mental health system. Secretary Benton has taken numerous steps to strengthen hospital oversight, involve independent experts and advocates, and increase accountability. The secretary's hard work has been uniformly welcomed.
Gov. Easley and Secretary Benton will soon recommend further initiatives to improve our mental health services for the General Assembly's consideration in May. More needs to be done.
Your editorial implies a lack of compassion and action for the mentally ill. This is false, as the above illustrations show.