Along the Tracks

Monday, May 05, 2003

Back in Montpelier

My wife and I spent Friday and Saturday at the NAMI Ohio annual conference in Columbus. Jeanne can tell you - I went there as a skeptic, not sure what NAMI did or how separate the organization is from the governmental bureaucracy which fumbles along on the crucial issue of mental illness. What I witnessed was a powerful determination by average citizens who have relationships touched by the devastation of these brain disorders to improve the future of their loved ones and seek treatments and, eventually, cures to the illnesses. There are different points of view and different approaches, but a common goal: to bring those who suffer from brain disorders into a world of hope and accomplishment, to fullest potential of their individual talents and dreams.

There was a lot of talk about the problem being “underfunded,” as I expected. But the criticism is more subtle and - particularly among individual NAMI advocates - targeted at the “fragmented” system which has gaping holes, overlaps, and a bureaucratic system which has fallen into the usual trap of chasing dollars and paperwork rather than seeking effective methods to reach and treat those who suffer. Front-line programs, research and treatments are the areas most commonly considered “underfunded,” not the governmental and insurance overhead which sucks up dollars like a shop vac.

If it sounds like this conference got me a little worked up - you bet it did! This is precisely the kind of issue which burns my butt as a conservative. A system is “gamed” for more and more money, while those who are ill, who really need the help, are of secondary concern - perhaps not always by individual members of the system, but certainly by the system itself. Each “outlet” plays a numbers racket, taking in as many “consumers” as possible, then filling out the paperwork for increased funding based on increased numbers “served.” Was anyone helped? Are any of the “consumers” now on a successful treatment regimen, living the kind of productive lives they can and should? It doesn’t matter, as long as they passed through the doors. And when funding time comes, they just point to all the failure to get a raise! How can we cut when the need is so great?!

The parallels with so many failed public schools are obvious - poor systems are rewarded for failure.

Perhaps the most important fact I discovered this weekend was just how effective some treatments have become. The Hyatt on Capital Square hosted this event, for which NAMI conference organizers were expecting around 400. Eight-hundred fifty showed up. Many, maybe even a majority, suffer from these brain diseases themselves. Yet they demonstrated by their numbers and their voices how effective treatments can offer people with illnesses the opportunity to enjoy productive lives. Some of their stories involved years of struggle to achieve that treatment, others have been fortunate to receive excellent care fairly soon after diagnosis. Some are limited by the side effects of medication. Some still struggle to find the best treatment for their condition. The point is, all these folks are individuals, no different than you or me, who happen to have a chronic illness they are trying to cope with and overcome. Many of them are spectacularly successful. Others are still searching. All should have the opportunity to achieve their true self. The present system is failing untold members of society who could be effective, productive and happy.

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