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Advocacy and Picketing by Cape Cod Hospital Nurses Generates Strong Editorial in Cape Cod Times Regarding Future of CCH Psych Center and Mental Health Funding

Support psych center

Oppose governor’s plan to cut mental health funding

June 09, 2011 2:35 AM

If there is such a thing as being a victim of your own success, then the Cape Psych Center in Hyannis may be a perfect example. As the governor looks toward cutting more from the state’s mental health budget, the center may actually find itself with more, rather than fewer patients, even as its own future remains up in the air.

This comes at a time when some staff members have expressed concern that there are insufficient personnel to handle the existing patient load. Last month, David Reilly, a spokesman for Cape Cod Healthcare, which operates the center, said that although there are no plans to close the facility, continuing cuts to mental health funding could force the organization to revisit the long-term future of the center.

And the Cape Psych Center is far from alone.

Last month, Gov. Deval Patrick pledged to cut $16 million from the Department of Mental Health budget. Some predicted this would lead to the state closing Taunton State Hospital, which has provided long-term mental health care for years.

What is more certain is that any significant reduction in funding would likely lead to the elimination of beds in off-Cape, state-funded facilities, possibly shifting even more of a burden to the nonprofit facilities that are able to remain open, such as Cape Psych Center.

In a sense, this scenario is a case of what happens when budget cuts at the state level come home to roost. The trickle-down theory may not work particularly well in terms of wealth distribution, but for budget cuts, the correlation is all-too direct.

The state Senate, however, has intervened on the side of the Department of Mental Health. Late last month, the Senate proposed a 4 percent increase, rather than a decrease, in the department’s operating budget.

Although budget constraints are squeezing all aspects of state funding, this is truly an area where we cannot afford to be stingy. Several mental health facilities have reported a rise in patients seeking treatment for depression, and have tied such requests to the ongoing economic uncertainty. Similar concerns have been voiced at Cape Psych Center, where employees last month reported that they had seen a rise in the number of aggressive and addicted patients.

If state facilities are closed and nonprofit organizations, such as Cape Psych Center, are unable to handle the growing demand, these patients will have little choice but to remain untreated.

Desperate people in desperate times are certainly more likely to do things that they would normally not otherwise do. We know that a disproportionate number of deinstitutionalized mental health patients eventually wind up re-institutionalized. But rather than finding themselves in a treatment facility where their conditions can be addressed through medical treatment, many of these individuals end up incarcerated because they are unable to function in the world.

The choice is actually a very simple one. We can either pay the cost of treating those who need it up front in the form of funding our mental health facilities, or we can pay the cost later in the form of crime, incarceration, and lost lives. The Senate’s approach offers more hope for everyone’s future.