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Ohio Coaliton for healthy communities advocates for services to all those in need

October 3, 2010
By PAT ROSS, Administrative Assistant, Columbiana County MHRS Board

Annually, more than 300,000 Ohioans with mental illness and 100,000 with addiction disorders require treatment services. Thousands more are on waiting lists or do not receive services at all.

The Coalition for Healthy Communities is an advocacy coalition made up of 35 agencies that come together to advocate for adequate alcohol, drug addiction, and mental health treatment, medications, and recovery support services for Ohioans with mental illness or addiction disorders. It seeks to remind policy makers that Ohioans from all walks of life need mental health and addiction services. A diagnosis of a mental illness or addiction disorder is not what it once was. Modern research has led to more effective treatments. Today, these illnesses are as treatable as other chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and asthma. In some cases, treatment success and recovery rates are higher for people with mental illness than for other chronic conditions.

Often, people are confused and believe that "behavioral health" means that people with addictions and mental illnesses are misbehaving in some way and that they can control their behavior. They don't understand that addiction and mental illness are diseases just like cancer and diabetes. While cancer and diabetes are diseases of the body, mental illness and addiction are diseases of the brain caused by chemical imbalances or genetics. These diseases often affect how people think and behave. Often, because of prejudice or lack of education, behavioral health is not included in everyday health care.

Federal health care reform will make certain medical treatments accessible to most Ohioans by 2014. A small percentage of the working poor will still not be able to afford health insurance coverage. Health care reform will not pay for supportive services to help people with serious mental illnesses or addictions live in the community. These supportive services include housing, education, and drop-in centers for peer support which are provided by local agencies and funded through the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board with the local tax levy.

Funding for the community-based behavioral health system in Ohio has suffered greatly in the past decade. In 2010, state funding for alcohol and drug addiction services was $12.4 million less than it was in 2007. The loss of funding for community mental health services is even more devastating. In 2010, funding was $204 million compared to $319 million in 2008. This amounts to a 36% decrease in funding. These cuts have reduced the amounts of services available in Columbiana County at a time when needs are the greatest.

In general, state funding for the public behavioral health system is one-third federal, one-third state, and one-third from local Board levies. Some funding losses were offset in SFY 2010 because of the enhanced Federal Medicaid Assistance Percentages (FMAP). Ohio temporarily received a larger portion of Medicaid funds from the federal government which helped to ease the burden on state and local resources. The loss of the enhanced FMAP and reductions in state funding in FY 2012 could result in disaster for the behavioral healthcare system. As the funding situation worsens, it is even more important for Columbiana County residents to support the Board's 1.3 mill renewal levy in November.

Through its Band Aid Awareness Campaign, the Coalition asks all Ohioans to stand up and advocate for individuals who must live with these diseases and to join the effort to ensure that behavioral health care is recognized as health care - not just for those who live with mental illness or addiction diseases, but for the families, communities, and organizations that work to ensure that Ohioans with mental illness or addictions have a lasting safety net that leads to recovery. Advocates for behavioral health care services can be found in children's services, health care, faith-based organizations, criminal justice, clinics, hospitals, social workers, pharmacists, doctors, consumer organizations, local behavioral health boards, and many other places.



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