BY MARK CREEKMORE, BARB HIGMAN, PAT ROOT, & LOIS MAHARG
In the current climate of austerity, can the Michigan State Legislature be persuaded to restore full funding to Community Mental Health (CMH)? Three volunteers from NAMI Washtenaw County spent Thursday, April 11, in Lansing in hopes that by sharing their stories with House legislators they could convince them to vote “yes.” Pat Root, Barb Higman and Mark Creekmore testified before the Health and Human Services Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. They told about the critical role CMH services have played in their lives and the lives of others living with mental health conditions.
“We participated in a very meaningful event,” Creekmore wrote in an email. “There were 35 who gave testimony, and we were near the end. The committee stayed the whole time except for one member who left early.”
During her testimony, Higman said she was terminated as a CMH client in 2015 because of cuts to Michigan’s General Fund. At the time, she was on a psychotropic medication and required close monitoring for side effects. Distressed about the termination and concerned about retaining access to a medication that improved her ability to live and function, she made a medication error, confusing two very similar looking medications and taking too much of one and not enough of the other. As a result, she landed in Chelsea Hospital for nearly a month, a situation that might not have occurred had she had continuing support from CMH.
“CMH not only provides medication management by a psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse practitioner, but also offers case management, wellness groups, dialectical behavioral therapy, exercise and nutrition classes and help to achieve personal goals,” Higman said. “I know that appropriate treatment and support can help prevent costly hospitalizations and pave the way to recovery.”
During her testimony, Root said she personally has received better treatment from CMH than from various private providers.
“Please take my story as an example of how well the CMH person-centered system works,” she said. “It may not be perfect but it worked, and continues to work, for me. They understand how things work together, and they provide all kinds of support (groups, therapy, skills-training, medication management — and many other services I have not needed). I have no confidence in the ability of profit-centered private providers to provide this level of service.”
Washtenaw County was well represented at the hearing, Creekmore said. “About nine peer specialists and others from Washtenaw came to talk. Two other NAMIs were there,” he added. The impact of the testimonies offered in support of CMH may not be known for some time. The legislature typically adopts a budget in June or July. The fiscal year begins October 1.