Mental health takes center stage in Massachusetts gubernatorial race

Mental Health Care Takes Center StageMental health care can be such a complicated issue that the federal government cannot address the needs of patients spread across all 50 states. Instead, the responsibility for providing efficient and timely treatment often falls to state and local governments.

Massachusetts has long been at the forefront of health care reform, but, like the rest of the country, it has struggled to find solutions for mental health care. As the state prepares to elect a new governor in November, mental health was the focus of a preliminary public forum featuring four gubernatorial candidates, the Boston Globe reported.

Discussing the issues
Deval Patrick, the current governor of Massachusetts, has a strong record of mental health advocacy during his tenure. Patrick has pushed for more courts that deal exclusively with crimes related to mental disorders and recently disciplined three Department of Correction officials who were responsible for the death of a mentally ill inmate.

Patrick will not seek reelection for a third term, though, which means that the next crop of gubernatorial candidates must demonstrate their commitment to advancing the state’s capability to provide mental health services. Four candidates – Attorney General Martha Coakley (D.), state representatives Charlie Baker (R.) and Donald Berwick (D.), and state treasurer Steve Grossman (D.) – gathered to discuss their attitudes on mental health issues and the responsibility Massachusetts has to residents with mental disorders.

Baker, who worked as an executive at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, was asked to evaluate the company’s response to mental health care under his command.

“Do I think we were perfect?” Baker said, as quoted by the Boston Globe. “No. But do I think we were as good or better than anyone else in Massachusetts? Yes.”

Berwick, a former administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said he would continue to push for a single-payer system in Massachusetts, which would ostensibly extend access to vital treatments to millions of residents. Grossman added that he would be in favor of such a proposal if it could be realistically moved through the state legislature.

The most well-known of the candidates, Coakley said she would push for more funding to establish a specialized team within the Department of Children and Families. This task force would focus exclusively on children who have suffered abuse and are at a higher risk of developing mental illnesses.

Keeping the pace
The next governor of Massachusetts will not be decided for another month, but he or she must maintain the commitment that the state has already made to improving mental health care. While many states may fail to provide adequate services for the mentally ill, Massachusetts has begun to rebuild a damaged mental health facility in the western part of the state, MassLive reported.

Located in Springfield, the facility suffered extensive damage during a rare tornado that touched down in the summer of 2011. The Mental Health Association, the organization in charge of the facility, raised $4.5 million in funding with help from the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the MassDevelopment.

The new facility will be a 16-bed complex for residents who are disabled from severe mental health conditions.

“We all have family and friends who deal with mental health issues,” the mayor of Springfield, Domenic Sarno​, told MassLive. “So it’s extremely important for stabilizing families. This also helps improve this area, too.”

The facility will likely be finished well after the gubernatorial election, leaving the incoming governor to decide where to take the state next in its fight to improve mental health services across the state.

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