On June 8th, 2016, I was invited to testify by the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus. Dr. Mary Currier from the Department of Health and Diana Mikula of the Department of Mental Health were also invited to testify at the caucus’ hearing on the budget cuts for those departments. The DMH budget information presented was incomplete; it did not address the existing public health crisis or the pending and impending litigation we face. These were my remarks and testimony.
BLACK LEGISLATIVE CAUCUS HEARING ON HEALTH AND MENTAL HEALTH June 8, 2016
BACKGROUND: Families as Allies is the only statewide organization run by and for families of children with mental health challenges. Our mission is to make sure families are partners in their children’s care. We provide an array of parent-to-parent support and work to make systems, policies and laws be more responsive to our children.
Each month, Families as Allies staff respond to about 200 calls, attend 30 – 50 meetings with families, provide training for families and providers, and serve on a number of policy councils. We have had a significant role in almost all legislation and lawsuits with behavioral health components since our inception in 1990 . We also routinely gather data from families about their experiences with the mental health system.
NEED: While it is essential that state agencies be funded at a level that allows them to respond to the citizens of the state, they must also be held accountable for using whatever funds they have in a responsible manner. Our focus group data and feedback from families who are members of our organization reflect that many children who need mental health services never come to the attention of the formal mental health system. When families are able to access services, they often experience them as unhelpful and irrelevant, sometimes because they feel providers are prejudiced or not sensitive to their cultures. As a direct result of this lack of services, some of our children are in expensive institutions, jail, and foster care instead of at home with us.
Mississippi over relies on costly residential and inpatient care. Almost all people with mental illness, including children, can live successfully in the community with the right types of services and supports. Such services for children, and the infrastructure to support them, are clearly explained and MANDATED in state and federal law, but we do not follow the law.
Because Mississippi continually violates the law, it is facing current and pending lawsuits. Rather than rectify the issues that led to these suits and ask for help from the people and groups that know what it would take to fix our broken system, the State has engaged in prolonged and costly legal maneuverings which have kept people from getting services and are only delaying the inevitable: a costly settlement for which policy makers appear totally unprepared. The State is also withholding vital information from all of us, including two tax-payer funded independent assessment reports with expert recommendations on how to create and fund mental health services that actually help people.
WHAT LEGISLATORS CAN DO:
Hold public hearings about our mental health system and make sure citizens feel free to share their experiences without intimidation or manipulation.
Demand that the executive branch follow state and federal law.
Insist that Attorney General Hood be consistent in his support of civil rights and mental health reform, including acknowledging current civil rights violations in the mental health system and making public the assessments that tell us how to fix our systems
Ensure that state laws facilitate the skills, experience and credentials needed in leadership of state agencies and support consumer, family and public input into policies and processes of those agencies, including their board meetings.