Mental health should be a priority

By Colleen Quinn, State House News Service

CHARLESTOWN, MA — A group advocating for better mental-health care in Massachusetts wants Gov.-elect Charlie Baker to make it a priority in his administration, and called on him to appoint a Cabinet secretary with a background in mental health and substance abuse.

Officials from the National Alliance on Mental Illness said Tuesday they want Baker to outline his goals for improving mental-health care in the state from the moment he is inaugurated, and asked him to lay out a plan to end emergency-room boarding for people who need inpatient care, stop “overincarcerating” people with mental illnesses, and increase payment rates for behavioral health care.

During the gubernatorial campaign, Attorney General Martha Coakley frequently said she would make improvements to mental-health care a priority if elected. Advocates hope Baker will give it as much attention.

More than 200,000 adults in Massachusetts live with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, depression or bipolar disorder, and an estimated 84,000 children between the ages of 9 and 18 live with a mental illness that seriously impacts their life, Coakley said during the campaign. Coakley estimated that more than half of adults living with a mental illness received no treatment during the past year.

Stephen Rosenfeld, who took over as president of NAMI in 2013, said the group believes Baker will give a sympathetic ear to the problems facing people with mental illness because of his experience running Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and his time as health and human-services secretary under former Gov. William Weld.
Rosenfeld, who served as chief legal counsel to former Gov. Michael Dukakis, said he plans to approach the administration soon after Baker is sworn in.

A Baker spokesman said the governor-elect is familiar with the issues.

“Governor-elect Baker cares deeply about continuing to improve mental-health services and thanks the National Alliance on Mental Illness for all of their work, including the proposals presented today,” Baker spokesman Tim Buckley said in an emailed statement to the News Service. “The governor-elect has a successful track record improving the quality of care for the mentally ill, helping to build the successful, community-based model that is still in place today, and he understands there is more work to be done, including combating the stigma associated with mental health.”

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