The Mental Health Crisis IntensifiesBy
Secretary Carmen Hooker Odom and her antisocial lackeys at the Division of Medical Assistance decided last week that they needed another week to analyze the costs of Community Support services.Â Of course, they didn’t see any need to analyze costs at all when Secretary Odom precipitously slashed funding by a third, making the cuts retroactive to March 1.Â Due to massive public pressure (that’s you) the Odom retreated to a position of making the new unsustainable rate begin April 5 and continue until they set a new rate using their magickal After-the-Fact cost analysis.
The Asheville Citizen-Times and the head of Western Highlands Local Mgmt. Entity (the body that ostensibly coordinates services for many of the western counties) have both called for Secretary Odom’s dismissal.Â Reminiscent of George W. Bush’s “complete confidence” in Alberto Gonzales, Governor Easley has expressed his complete confidence in Secretary Odom.Â Her decision to slash rates to $40/hour for a service that breaks even at $53/hour sent the entire state network of private providers into a mad scramble for cash to meet payroll, to keep their doors open.
Hundreds of thousands of mental health service recipients have been affected by the instability brought on by Secretary Hooker Odom’s caprice, and over a thousand providers are holding their breath until the Dept. of Health and Human Services releases the new rate.Â Without a substantial increase in the rate, you can look for providers across the state to close their doors.Â
Secretary Odom and Governor Easley have decided that, rather than take responsibility for the chaos, they’ll blame mental health providers laboring under the system that Odom regularly overturns.Â They’ve been calling counselors, psychiatrists, and community support workers “abusers” that “abuse” the system.Â They’re attacking the only people in the state who provide the services.Â They continue to misrepresent the results of the state audit, which discovered many cases of misuse among the 167 most suspicious companies in the state.
Secretary Odom audited only the companies who were billing outrageous amounts of Community Support.Â She audited only 1/6th of the service providers in the state, and she has yet to make any of her data open to public scrutiny.Â She sneakily released the slashed rate on the Thursday before Easter weekend, when no one could do anything about it.Â She is unconcerned about the 5/6th (or more) of providers who are performing Community Support services with integrity and efficacy.Â Her rate slash would guarantee worse service for clients, since the $40/hour rate wouldn’t allow providers to hire Master’s level practitioners.Â Hooker Odom has demonstrated contempt for recipients, providers, and the public at every turn in this process, and yet Governor Easley continues to give his full support to her irresponsible, dangerous leadership.
The Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services agreed last week to hold public hearings on this issue, but they have not scheduled the hearing.Â Budget negotiations are underway, and legislators are swamped with acres of maddening detail.Â The danger of the Mental Health Crisis being swept under the budgetary rug is great, and that’s what I’m writing to ask you all to help with today.
Please contact the three Chairs of the Appropriations Subcommittee to encourage them to schedule this important hearing.Â Legislators need to understand the precipice at which we stand, the lives that will be forever affected by Hooker Odom’s impulsive decision.Â They need to understand that we’re last in the nation in mental health spending and first in the nation in hospitalizations.Â They need to understand that they’ll spend twice as much on institutionalization as they do on prevention and maintenance.Â They need to understand that the impoverished twelve year old bipolar boy with the bipolar, disabled mother needs Community Support services in order to have a chance at succeeding.Â They need to understand that slashing the rate is the same as slashing at the lives of thousands and thousands of mentally ill North Carolinians.
And, while you’re at it, feel free to drop a note to…
Secretary Carmen Hooker Odom – (919-733-4534; fax: 919-715-4645)
Governor Mike EasleyÂ – (919-733-4240)
Lt. Governor Bev PerdueÂ – (919-733-7350)
Deputy Director Mark Benton – (919) 855-4100; Fax – (919) 733-6608
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