The gaps in Ohio’s safety net

By Kathie Chaffee, Ron Marian and April Caraway

Special to the Vindicator

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

Mental health and addiction services in Ohio have been decimated by funding cuts over the past decade, leaving many Ohioans without the community-based services they need. Additionally, the ability to provide psychiatric hospitalization is limited now that all but six state mental health hospitals have been closed in Ohio. 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.

A realistic goal

Recovery rates for mental illness and addiction are comparable to those of physical illnesses. Individuals with a mental illness and/or addiction, when receiving appropriate treatment and recovery support services such as housing, employment and peer support can and do recover. Recovering individuals become productive members of our local communities by working, paying taxes, and keeping their families intact and healthy.

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

We propose the following two-step approach:

First, the state must make a significant investment of additional General Revenue Funding in the state fiscal year 2014-15 budget for addiction and mental health prevention, treatment and support services. Currently, 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.

Individuals with untreated mental illnesses or addictions have total health care costs that are double those who do not have these conditions. By appropriately funding Ohio’s behavioral health safety net, we can reduce the number of people in our jails and prisons, unnecessary emergency room visits, and homelessness.

Second, we encourage the governor and the Ohio General Assembly to expand Medicaid coverage to individuals and families with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level as allowed by the Affordable Care Act. Having health insurance significantly improves health, quality of life, and mortality rates.

These two steps will help Ohioans in need of mental health or addiction services to recover. And, Ohio will become one of the most favorable states in the nation for new businesses, by giving employers access to a mentally healthy and drug-free workforce.

The writers are directors of the Mahoning Valley Mental Health and Recovery Boards: Kathie Chaffee, Columbiana County; Ron Marian, Mahoning County, and April Caraway, Trumbull County.

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