Letters for September 29, 2011

Letter of the week

It could happen to you

Re “Two-tiered system” by Amy Yannello (SN&R Frontlines, September 15):

Thanks to Amy Yannello for covering a volatile subject (Proposition 63) with accuracy, depth and respect for differing opinions on this issue.

As the former MHSA Policy Director for NAMI, California and the member of a family with a history of mental illness, I have long-term professional and personal experience with the California Public Mental Health system. From that experience, I suggest that the implementation of Prop. 63 is another example of bureaucratic inefficiency and political game-playing.

Senate President Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg says King’s claims are misdirected. I believe Steinberg’s analysis is incorrect.

He says the “stubborn economy” and the failure of “realignment” is the reason for the core of the state’s mental health system crumbling. The “core’s crumbling” was a prominent part of the impetus to pass Prop. 63 in the first place, before the current economic meltdown.

I ask Steinberg to not further politicize this issue by thrusting it into the middle of the Democratic/Republican stalemate about cuts vs. revenues. Soon after Prop. 63 passed, at an MHSA/OAC meeting, Steinberg said in response to a question about spending priorities, “There’s simply not enough money to go around.”

Yes, we know. And armchair mental health advocates can say that. It’s another thing entirely when it’s your son or daughter or mother or father or sister or brother. We’re supposed to say, “Sorry, there’s no help or hope for you. There’s not enough money to go around.”

If you’re tracking, put my name in the Rose King camp. Prop. 63 needs to be used the way it was intended. It should not be seen as Plan B. And members of the Legislature had better remember that phrase, “There but for the grace of God go I.” At any point in time, any of us could find ourselves in that underserved group, commonly known as “the mentally ill.”

Dede Ranahan

Education for head injury prevention

Re “Head games” by Hugh Biggar (SN&R Feature, September 15):

Thanks for the article about head injuries. I am a karate/kickboxing/mixed martial arts coach and gym owner. I am having all my trainers take the online course referred to in your article this week!

Jim Ernest

More of the same

Re “RickMitt RomneyPerry” by John Kloss (SN&R Opinion, September 15):

The two Republican heads in one body/suit represent the same old failed GOP economic policies, anti-tax and anti-abortion agendas.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry is former President George W. Bush on steroids and appeals to the same religious extremists. Mitt Romney is courting the Tea Party vote and has flip-flopped on most of his principles.

The Right Reverend Rick gets his jollies off by blowing away coyotes, questions evolution, and he has recently called for “all Americans” to fall down on their knees to Jesus. Just what America needs—a Jesus freak as president.

These two talking heads may have different names but both worship the same conservative dogma.

Ron Lowe
Nevada City

Pay attention to the public

Re “Arena three-way still a sketchy proposition” by Cosmo Garvin (SN&R Cut&Paste, September 15):

I feel very strongly that the money that would be spent to build a new arena in the old rail yard should be spent for fire and police protection, parks and recreation, libraries and other free public-use facilities. If a new arena is needed, it should be built on the existing land, where there is better vehicle access. I agree that the voice of the public is being ignored.

Mara Centers

In defense of RSTs

Re “Two-tiered system” by Amy Yannello (SN&R Frontlines, September 15):

This article addresses many relevant topics, but I feel there are some misconceptions. The article seems to imply that services provided by Sacramento County Regional Support Teams are in some way substandard and that these services were some how hurt by MHSA.

Regional Support Teams are serving a very large population of people who would otherwise go untreated and, in many cases, have absolutely no one to turn to for help when they are experiencing a mental health crisis. These programs have not eliminated hospitalizations, but the positive impact they have had on their members and the community in general is practically immeasurable.

It is also important to remember that we can no longer force people to participate in treatment or force the people who are referred to services to then participate in those services. I wonder if this relevant to some of the tragedies mentioned in the article.

I am in no way advocating that people with mental illness be forced to take medications or participate in treatment. It is important to remember that some people who could benefit from the programs offered to them refuse to participate in those programs. This phenomenon could account for some of the tragedies mentioned in the newspapers.

Nick Jacoby

Two different priorities

Re “Two-tiered system” by Amy Yannello (SN&R Frontlines, September 15):

Thank you for an important and thoughtful piece.

I think what we are witnessing are two different priorities. Since they are political appointees, the people who run mental health departments like to serve large numbers of people, since that helps their bosses garner support. But they do not like to serve the most seriously ill as they can be difficult, time-consuming an expensive. Hence, mental health officials through un-benign neglect transfer the most seriously mentally ill to jails and prisons. (In California, jails and prisons have three times as many mentally ill as hospitals.)

This allows the political appointees to do reports on how wonderful they are doing with people in the mental health system, without admitting they kicked the most seriously ill out of the system and into incarceration.

On the other hand are people like Rose King and Carla Jacobs, who believe we should be helping the most seriously ill, since they need our help the most and the consequences of not receiving care can pose a real danger to the patient, public, and law enforcement. Perhaps nothing demonstrates this more than Ms. Jacobs’ insistence that Laura’s Law be funded. Los Angeles’ willingness to fund suicide hotlines but not Laura’s Law, which reduces suicides, highlights the dichotomy. The suicide line gets lots of calls, so Los Angeles can brag how many they serve, but they won’t implement Laura’s Law, which would give the suicide line a place to refer people to. Los Angeles also decided not to start a housing project for seriously mentally ill because they couldn’t find someone to run it. They simply re-allocated the funds to serve the less severely ill.

Ms. Yanello wrote a terrific, informative piece. Let’s hope the thinking of King and Jacobs prevails over that of the politicians.

D.J. Jaffe

Protect the law as written

Re “Two-tiered system” by Amy Yannello (SN&R Frontlines, September 15):

I appreciate Amy Yannello and SN&R’s attention to this important topic. I want to protect the MHSA funds, but I am afraid of the current stance to protect the status quo and maintain the two-tiered system.

I know that we have a system that can not be sustained and that there are limited resources and unlimited needs. There are parents who have children who are behind bars or fences—or under grave stones—instead of in supported living as was promised. There are consumers of all cultures, ethnicities and sexual orientations who cannot access doctors, psychiatrists, therapists, dual-diagnosis treatment and appropriate vision, dental and medical care. There are providers, front-line workers, and administrators who are doing their very best in a very broken and unsafe system. We can’t celebrate until there is welcoming, safe, accessible care for all.

I am not a critic of MHSA, but I am highly critical of the way it was implemented. I would like to correct the misconception that those of us who have publicly denounced the bureaucratic waste, political and special interest domination and endless processing are supporters of a crisis-driven system or that we “don’t understand.” Anyone who has watched their child slip into psychosis, walk handcuffed to an ambulance and be driven away to a locked psychiatric hospital would never oppose preventing crisis.

We want to protect the law as written. We are not going to settle for anecdotal success stories and skewed million dollar studies when so much suffering pervades the system. We need to restore sanity to the system of care by integrating the funding streams to support all consumers and families. We must provide a continuum of services from the hospital to the wellness center.

Rose King, Martin McCrea, Carla Jacobs and Peter Mantas have it right. They are not misdirected. Those paternalistic comments demean their lived experience and community service. I hope the legislature will listen to them by restoring the integrity of the act through regulatory fixes that will finally provide the transformative opportunities California and its most vulnerable have been waiting to see.

Teresa Pasquini
El Sobrante

Alternative, not milquetoast

Re “9/11 blind” by Tom Hayden (SN&R Feature, September 8):

I have read alternative newspapers over the decades looking for stories that you don’t find in mainstream news media. And I haven’t seen any really alternative news items in a while. So when I picked up the September 8th issue of SN&R and found the 9/11 article by Tom Hayden, I was excited—okay, I lead a slow life—to see a different and welcome take on 9/11.

I grew up during the Vietnam War and I was fortunate to see views that challenged the status quo even in mainstream media. You don’t see that as much; instead, we see milquetoast news stories. So thanks for the story.

Michael Santos