Monday, April 14, 2014

Great OpEd, Leisl Stoufer!

Imagine being diagnosed with cancer but being told you are not sick enough to qualify for treatment. Imagine having a serious medical emergency, but there are no hospital beds so you are turned away and denied care. Imagine having a debilitating disease, but instead of receiving treatment and being cared for, you are arrested, thrown in jail or forced to live on the streets.
These are the horrors and the realities that individuals and families who suffer from mental illness face every day. There is no other illness in America that is treated this way. We have abandoned an entire population of people. We deny them treatment, we walk over them in the streets, and we throw them in jail as we look away. For the first time in 50 years there is a real solution that will overhaul our nation’s failed mental health system.
Congressman Tim Murphy, R-Penn., has proposed the Helping Families In Mental Health Crisis Act that would dramatically change our nation’s approach to mental illness.
In his bill H.R. 3717 Congressman Murphy, a clinical psychologist, lays out a comprehensive approach that would address critical gaps and barriers that keep the sickest patients from receiving treatment. These barriers include strict Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act laws that prohibit family members from sharing vital information about their mentally ill loved ones with physicians. Murphy’s bill frees parents and family members who are caregivers from HIPAA restraints so that they can enter into a healthy dialogue with doctors allowing for a more proactive treatment plan and better treatment outcomes.
The proposed legislation supports Assisted Outpatient Treatment. AOT is court-ordered treatment for the most severely mentally ill who have a history of frequent hospitalizations, incarcerations, threats of suicide or violent behavior and medication non-compliance. Los Angeles County has implemented a pilot program of Laura’s Law, California’s version of AOT, named after Laura Wilcox, a mental health worker who was killed by a person who refused psychiatric treatment. Assisted Outpatient Treatment has proven to reduce incidents of hospitalization, homelessness, incarceration, victimization and violence.
Murphy’s bill also addresses the issue of funding. Approximately 40 percent of Americans suffer from mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or ADHD, while approximately 5-8 percent of Americans suffer from severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and severe depression. In Murphy’s bill, funding would be shifted away from mental health programs that assist the highest functioning and would be re-focused on the most severely mentally ill.
As we drive by countless homeless people on the streets and hear endless news stories of preventable tragedies, it is becoming harder and harder to ignore the deficits that define our current mental health care system. Congressman Murphy’s Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act is a comprehensive bi-partisan piece of legislature that will eliminate the deficits by integrating mental health care with the rest of our medical system, providing better and more accessible treatment, providing more hospital beds and treating those with the most serious mental illness with the care, respect and dignity that they deserve.
Leisl Stoufer is founder of Bold Faith Ministries, a ministry to individuals and families affected by metal illness.
Opinion column: Overhaul the mental illness system - The Orange County Register


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