It’s well known that the vast majority of people living with mental illness are peaceful, functioning members of their community, posing no risk to themselves or others. This is because treatment works, when dedicated mental healthcare professionals are available to provide it.
But some state’s systems are falling short — reaching barely half of low-income residents in need of state-funded mental health services. When this frayed safety net fails, some people will lose control—with tragic results that wreck lives and destroy everyone’s sense of safety in the community.
This month, members of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW gathered at the State Capitol in Olympia to release a powerful new look at the crisis facing mental healthcare in Washington state. The report is entitled Don’t Look Away: With a collapsing mental health safety net, Washington is losing the fight against preventable tragedies (pdf).
In WA, cuts to mental health programs would leave mental health patients to receive care in emergency rooms, jails, and hospitals instead of community settings. Providing mental healthcare in the community costs $2,162 a year, while similar care in a prison costs $31,000 or $182,000 in a state hospital.
Karyn Polito, the Republican candidate for State Treasurer in Massachusetts, has repeatedly voiced her support for the passage of Question 3, a dangerous ballot initiative that could lead to drastic cuts to services for our most vulnerable citizens.
If Question 3 passes, it would eliminate $2.5 billion of revenue for Massachusetts. In a debate on NECN, Polito “nodded along to the suggestion that the result would be a disaster for the state. Yet she also dismissed fears that Question 3 would lead to deep cuts as ‘scare tactics.'” Scare tactics?
It’s time for Karyn Polito to go on the record. We’re asking Polito to tell voters whether vital community services – like programs for people living with disabilities – will face cuts if Questions 1 & 3 are approved. Join SEIU members across Massachusetts in asking Karyn Polito to go on the record about cuts to human services. Sign the petition to Polito, here.
Polito has said she will vote for Question 3, but says she’d then work to bring the sales tax back up to 5 percent (no details yet on what kind of wizardry she’d use to make that happen). Polito’s support for Question 3 is even shunned by other state candidates in her party.
Empower Oregon is an integrated campaign of SEIU Local 503, with the goal of uniting frontline mental health and addictions workers to successfully advocate for their clients, their services and themselves from their workplaces all the way to the State Capitol.
One of the biggest challenges to quality community based social services is adequate funding. Empower Oregon volunteers, many from unrepresented private non profit social service agencies, joined 503 members in January to pass two tax reform measures which saved much of the current funding levels for critical services in Oregon. This was no small task since Oregonians historically turn down any sort of tax related measures.
In March, after a bill passed implementing severely restrictive criminal history background check rules for workers, our efforts obtained a delay in implementation for drug and alcohol counselors. Many of the most successful additions counselors were once users themselves with criminal histories connected to their substance abuse. Overcoming their addictions adds much value to their life experience often making them the most credible and effective counselors for those still suffering. Since the delay in the new law covering addictions counselors was not permanent, sustained effort was called for.
In July Empower Oregon and ACCBO, the Addiction Counselor Certification Board of Oregon, lead a “Recovery Oriented Systems of Care” public forum on the issue. Voice was given to hundreds of affected addictions counselors, clients, and community supporters who came together to listen, share and learn about restrictive and inconsistent issues with Oregon’s criminal background check system. Present to hear the testimony was a panel of legislators and State Department of Human Services officials. State Representative Michael Dembrow summed up the thoughts of everyone who attended the forum by saying: “If the law prevents [therapists and caregivers] from working in this field and giving back to the community, then the law must be changed.”
Stakeholders continue to come together, lead by Empower Oregon’s effort to give front line workers a real voice for quality accessible community based mental health and addictions services. Many workers interested in a lasting voice at their agencies as well as the Capitol are taking a look at becoming part of SEIU Local 503 in order to join with union members who serve the same clients and mirror their dedication to quality services. They see that when it comes to improving the quality of services we provide, they really are stronger together.
Low wages and limited access to benefits has resulted in extremely high turnover in the human service workforce. This turnover can cause gaps in services, create lack of continuity in care, and interfere with the development of positive relationships between workers and those they support. In 2006 SEIU members, direct support workers and disability rights advocates in Washington DC took a first step down a long road to recruit, train and retain a workforce that can provide high quality service and supports for people with developmental disabilities.
Working together, they successfully passed the Stevie Sellows Act through the Washington, DC City Council. The Act established a fund to improve jobs and the quality of supports for people with disabilities living in Intermediate Care Facilities(ICF/MR). The Funds can only be used by facilities who have an agreement in place with their employees to improve the quality of support services and increase the wages, benefits and training for workers in the facilities.
Over the last few months we have been talking with workers at ICF/MRs about what they can do to make sure the policy is implemented and other ways to provide high quality supports and good jobs for the people providing them. It has taken four long years, but the policy will finally go into effect this fall in Washington, DC. Solving the problem of turnover of direct support professionals is a complex, challenging problem and the Stevie Sellow Act is no magic bullet. SEIU will continue to work with disability advocates, family members, consumers and direct support professionals in Washington DC, and through-out the country to develop innovative solutions.