Strengthen the safety net


With the Chardon High School shooting and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on our minds, it’s time for Ohio to take stock of the safety net available for adults and children with mental illnesses or addictions.

The safety net for mental health and addiction services in Ohio has been damaged by losses in funding, leaving many Ohioans without needed community services. The ability to provide psychiatric hospitalization is limited. 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 evolved over a number of years.

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 support services such as housing, employment and peer support, can and do recover. Recovering individuals become productive members of our community by working, paying taxes, and keeping their families intact and healthy.

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

I propose the following two-step approach:

First, the state must allocate additional General Revenue Funding in the 2014-15 budget for addiction and mental health prevention, treatment and support services. All Ohioans need access to treatment and recovery supports so they have the opportunity to work and live meaningful, productive lives.

Individuals with untreated mental illnesses or addictions have total health care costs that are double those who do not have these conditions.

With appropriate funding, we can reduce the number of people in our jails and prisons, unnecessary emergency room visits, and homelessness. With appropriate funding, we have the opportunity to save both lives and dollars.

Second, we encourage the governor and the 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.

Health insurance provides individuals with access to care and 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 thrive. They will secure Ohio’s place as one of the most favorable states in the nation for new businesses, by giving employers access to a mentally healthy and drug-free workforce.

We recognize that the governor and legislature have difficult decisions to make in the 2014-15 biennial budget. However, when Kasich recently announced an allocation of $5 million to help children and families facing mental health crises, he stated “we have to be concerned about the safety net that exists in our communities for the mentally ill.”

Investing in the health and well-being of Ohio’s citizens is the right thing to do and a sound investment in Ohio’s future.

Kathleen Chaffee

Executive director

County MHRS Board