Tuesday, May 27, 2003 at 2:03 PM
May is Mental Health Month. Many people are reluctant to believe that mental illness will touch their lives. But clinical experts say the longer you live, the more likely you are to deal with it - either for yourself or a family member. Researchers are building their knowledge base on life-long wellness. Meanwhile, the local mental health system has been on a roller-coaster ride over the past five months. The battle to fund local services continues at the Statehouse-and here. Cuyahoga County passed a Health and Human Services Levy which will raise millions of dollars for services. But these campaigns have opened political wounds that have yet to heal. Our observance of mental health month concludes today with this update from ideastream's April Baer.
Some people make it through life without ever dealing with mental health problems. But doctors say just because they haven't turned up yet, doesn't mean they never will. Dr. Satinderpal Sandu, is a geriatrician at Metrohealth Medical Center's Prentiss Center for Skilled Nursing Care. Walking the sunlit hallways, she says mental illnesses are among the most typical conditions you'll find.
Satinderpal Sandu: The 3 big ones that come up are of course dementia, that's the one everyone's most fearful about. Depression is also another big topic of concern... And a lot of older people who get sick and are on medications can also suffer from delirium.
Dr. Sandu says one way to fight these conditions is to encourage elderly people keep their brains busy, and look outward. It's harder for inertia to set in among people who are engaged. There's a good example nearby, where two elderly women sit positioned in adjacent wheelchairs. They're dressed in bright colored pantsuits of tropical blues and greens with plenty of jewelry.
One of the two women is talking to herself, just repeating gibberish, really. But her companion hasn't given up on her.
Elderly Woman : I'm just keeping her company... she can't understand what she's saying, but I'm just talking... she just talks and holds my hand... (laughs) you have to treat them all nice, because we don't know what's going to happen to us when we get old!
While this patient isn't shy about facing her friend's condition, stigma is still preventing many people from getting help they need with mental illness. Erin Rader is a nurse who also works in at the Prentiss Center.
Erin Rader: I'll give you an example of a stroke. A person who has a stroke, a family member will say to me, 'Well of course they're depressed! Wouldn't you be depressed if you had a stroke?' And I will say yes, but it's treatable. It is depression, but it's treatable.
Just as doctors adjust their methods to deal with the future of mental health care, adjustments are being made among administrators as well.
Agencies across Ohio have spent a tough year trying to ensure they'd maintain as much funding as possible. Three budget corrections have been made by the state legislature, each chipping away at different funding streams. Cuyahoga County slashed local funding by about ten percent to its agencies - causing some trickle down cuts. Fed up with the continual reductions, leaders within community mental health started talking about whether it would be advantageous to band together. They formed the Mental Health Advocacy Coalition, or MHAC. Coalition director Joan Englund was hired this spring. Her first priority, she says, is the state's next budget.
Joan Englund: Right now we are working on the state budget to restore, at a minimum the $11.8 million in the budget that was axed out of the governor's proposed budget by the House.
Some observers say the cuts could have been worse, but with services stripped down, Englund says this reduction would mean more serious cuts. Budget hearings continue in Columbus, with the Senate taking public testimony next week.
Local funding is next on the list. Now that Cuyahoga County has passed its Health and Human Services levy, mental health is angling for its piece of the pie. Workers and consumers from many different agencies came forward to volunteer for the levy effort; some have suggested their work should be rewarded. Also, the Community Mental Health Board is asking the County to consider releasing $1.7 million that was held in reserve last year, just in case the levy didn't pass.
It's not clear if the local mental health agencies - which have been competing against each other for year - can overcome their differences through the coalition. But Coalition director Joan Englund, says she believes there is a common agenda, despite the fact that each agency has to rely on a different source of funding.
Joan Englund: I think the diversity of funding sources is potentially valuable, in that if one area of funding declines or is basically shut off, there are other ways to try to fund programs. I also think it allows for some creative programs: different types of things. Things that for example aren't funded by Medicaid, for example, perhaps can potentially be funded by other opportunities. It allows for the mental health community to provide a great variety of services. And that's what we need. Every consumer's not the same.
Assuming that funding differences can be resolved, there are also some loose ends left dangling from this spring's levy campaign. The levy opponents - chief among them the Service Employees International Union - made a stand using pointed criticisms of some mental health agencies. They complained of lax spending among some county contractors, and accused administrators of actively resisting union organizers in several key places. While voters weren't swayed in large enough numbers to defeat the levy, union officials have not backed down from their allegations. While their feud with mental health agencies is no longer on the front burner, it is still simmering, and could re-emerge at any time. In Cleveland, I'm April Baer, 90.3.