Creation of publicly subsidized community living programs for people with severe mental illness should be the primary goal of states attempting to overhaul treatment systems, an Ohio official said today at Kansas University.
Linda Zelch, deputy director for program development in the Ohio Department of Mental Health, told 100 professionals, educators and legislators that state hospitals and prisons should no longer be used to warehouse the mentally ill.
The conference, "Mental Health Reform in Kansas: Possibilities and Prescriptions," was prompted by studies that documented deficiencies in Kansas' approach to the issue. A 1988 survey ranked Kansas 42nd of the 50 states in mental health programs.
"To design a quality mental health system we must start with a set of values about people, not just about people who are mentally ill but all people," said Zelch, who served on an Ohio council that developed a nationally recognized program for mental health reform.
"IN OHIO, we start with the assumption that all people, regardless of physical or mental abilities, have dignity and worth, and not only can be but are a part of the community in which they live. Our value system is not about them. It is about us."
Zelch said people who are mentally ill are especially sensitive to stress. Case management must be individualized and promote a stable living environment. Mental illness is impoverishing, she said, and programs must concentrate on income and jobs.
She said mental health reform in Ohio was led by Gov. Richard Celeste, who helped unite mental health groups, present a course of action to the public and secure financing. In response to client needs, he continues to support reform efforts.
THE CONFERENCE, sponsored by the School of Social Welfare and its advisory board, comes two months before Kansas lawmakers consider modifying the state mental health system. Legislators were scheduled to participate in a panel discussion today.
One focus of the discussion probably will be Thursday's report by the Kansas Governor's Task Force on Mental Health Reform. The report issued to Gov. Mike Hayden calls for increased emphasis on community services and $5.2 million more in spending on mental health programs.
In Kansas, 7 percent of the state's mental health expenditures for the care of chronically mentally ill is devoted to community services. In contrast, Wisconsin, Colorado and Oregon spend more than 30 percent of their mental health dollars on such care.