Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Letter to John Allen and Tom O'Clair: rating the counties

Family and consumer representatives John Allen and Tom O'Clair of the NY State Office of Mental Health published a survey rating the counties by how many constituents sat on county community services boards and mental health subcommittees. The idea was to stir up interest, should the county be failing its responsibilities. The way they did it, compiling a staggering table of meaningless data, drew the remarks below.

John Allen andTom O'Clair:

I really don't see any meaning in the table you have sent out to the NAMI organization and its affiliates. Someone at OMH has spent a lot of time putting this together at a time when community mental health services budgets are stretched thin and there has been no growth in services to keep up with the population changes and to see that needed jobs are done by provider agencies. The county offices of community services are understaffed, positions are missing and go unfilled and county political leadership does not promote a vigorous attitude for mental health.

This fact gathering is a misrepresentation about the participation level of families and recipients as well as provider personnel. It has inaccurate data about their participation, about the numbers of meetings and frequency. The county by county scores at the end of the table are laughable attempts to show one county does better than another when the grades have no basis.

There is in fact, very little participation by families and recipients on these county boards and committees. In Schenectady I'm sorry to see things on the downgrade with fewer family members attending, almost no consumers, and almost no directors of agencies. This is a high scoring county in your estimation. Instead, there is low morale, even disinterest, I believe, because mental health budgets are kept low and the Office of Community Services can't staff up promptly. Meetings are infrequent and poorly attended by providers.

I'll tell you what's wrong here, besides wasting taxpayer money on such mind numbing number checking. The OMH has abdicated its responsibility to see that the county community services boards and mental health subcommittees act according to law and regulation. These offices are weak and unorganized. The meetings are held infrequently and not on regular schedules, often being cancelled. These are not formal meetings. there are no minutes kept, no votes taken, no agenda published. No attendance is taken, no written record of continuity as to what was planned and what was accomplished. So a citizen cannot tell what the community services board or its mental health committee does nor what it has done over the years to show for its meetings.

For that matter, most of the parents I meet with in family support groups over here wouldnt know there are such boards and committees and if they do, they do not show interest in joining them when we publicize them. Here's what I want to say. The parents are far more interested in the immediate problems facing them and their adult children with mental disorders. they crave more counseling, advice, talking out their situations, which keep changing, particularly when someone is losing touch and uncontrolled with their illness, getting in trouble with the law, lacking housing, needing medicine, looking for social security and medicaid benefits, trying to work free the bureaucracy and waiting lists to get what they need.

I know both of you are trying to help with those things. And we in NAMI and the hospital support groups go over it again and again. But these necessities are never ending. New parents come along with the same problems and need a helping hand all along the way, the kind of support we need from both of you, as well.

What's wrong is that these citizen boards are set up to see there is leadership at county level with citizens invited on them to see that the private agencies in mental health are doing what they're supposed to and they're properly funded. Without the exposure the agencies don't have to do as good a job or they're far less visible. That's why I write. People in need are being left out. A few years ago mental health subcommittee meetings were attended by many more agencies--in housing and homeless services, family and child, mental health clinic and hospital inpatient, crisis-emergency, Catholic Charities, City Mission, YMCA--as well as families and consumers. I can remember healthy debates about where our county was going and what was missing and should be addressed in mental health. People looked to the county agency to step up and lead. It's not happening now. You can't help feel the difference from a few years ago. (Roy Neville)

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