Updated March 27 at 12:27am

Signs of hope in mental-health care

By Rebecca Keister
PBN Staff Writer

Chaz Gross has a theory on improving mental-health services that involves more than just spending additional money.

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Signs of hope in mental-health care


Chaz Gross has a theory on improving mental-health services that involves more than just spending additional money.

The executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Rhode Island and former long-time social worker says funding cuts hurt services but that a broken mental-health system needs more than dollars to be fixed.

“You can’t throw good money after bad. I think that [Rhode Island] changed the way we provide services in a lot of ways,” Gross said. “At one point we had the best mental-health system in the country. We slid to the middle of the pack. There were lots of stuff that sort of slipped by.”

Gross is referring to the state’s middle-of-the-pack “C” grade given in a 2009 report card by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It’s the last such report issued by the national organization and recently resurfaced in media reports looking at what states have done since to better their scores.

Rhode Island, which also received a “C” grade in the previous 2006 report, was criticized in 2009 for inadequate public mental-health services, long waits psychiatric patients faced for hospital admissions and a depleting patient bed capacity that led to an overreliance on hospital psychiatric units.

Those problems and more, the report said, disintegrated what once was one of the country’s best systems and a leader in community health services.

Three years later, without another national report card projected due in part, the national group said, to state budget cuts, Rhode Island mental-health leaders claim much progress has been made. That’s largely due to the state’s decision to focus on a recovery-oriented care system, they say, but those leaders also agree much work remains to bring Rhode Island’s services back to what they were a decade ago.

“I think we are in a bit of a mixed-bag situation,” said Susan Jacobsen, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Rhode Island. “It’s a combination of very strained budgets and an effort to change the way we do health care as a whole. I think that puts Rhode Island along with other states in the nation that have seen devolution of our system in some ways.”

Rhode Island had suffered mental-health budget cuts since 2008 but, said Craig Stenning, director of the R.I. Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, the state isn’t suffering as much as some others. That’s in part due to the state’s Health Home initiative, which integrates physical and mental-health services. Another factor was the state requiring care providers to collaborate with community organizations, which allowed for a change in federal reimbursement, he said.

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