During the past couple months the public has been shocked by stories of parents abandoning their children under Nebraska's safe-haven law, in which a loophole allowed parents to leave children of any age at hospitals without being prosecuted. Since September about 35 kids of all ages were left at Omaha hospitals (Nebraska closed the loophole last month, limiting the law to infants). A majority of the abandoned kids had a history of mental illness, and 90% of their parents/guardians previously had sought state services for them.1
This is yet another example, clearly receiving national attention, of the need for better mental health services for children. The situation is especially dire as more people are laid off and turn to public assistance for healthcare for their kids. The current economic crisis inevitably will lead states to make mental health program and Medicaid cuts, further restricting access to desperately needed care. And it could be much worse if the domestic auto industry collapses.
I don't expect the Obama administration and Congress to specifically tackle comprehensive mental healthcare reform with all the problems they face out of the gate (An unraveling economy creates needs everywhere, although Wall Street always seems to be first in line for help). But overall healthcare reform likely will receive at least a lot of attention in the next four years, and mental health and substance use care must be a part of that debate. As Ron Manderscheid points out in this issue, it's vital that providers make sure Congress hears their perspective.
To that end, the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare is developing a “key contact club,” a network of providers, board members, consumers, and families to reach out to their senators and representatives. Their message will be a positive one. As National Council President/CEO Linda Rosenberg stated in her letter to the association's members last month, “When change is being debated in Congress, we will be there. We'll leave behind references to a system in shambles; we'll lead with data; with our history as good managers of public dollars; and with an actionable agenda.”2
It takes leadership, like becoming a “key contact,” to make this country a better place for people with behavioral health problems. In fact, in this issue we highlight five such leaders, people just like you working to make a difference in their communities. I hope you find their stories inspiring and motivating as you prepare for an undoubtedly tough year ahead.
Douglas J. Edwards
- Ball K. Defending Nebraska's child-abandonment law. Time. November 18, 2008.http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1859951,00.html.
- Rosenberg L.November ’08 Letter from Linda. Re: Health care reform… What about us? http://www.thenationalcouncil.org/cs/letters_from_the_ceo/november_2008.