Testimony for Money Committee Members 

December 31, 2002

I am Caitlin Binning. I am with NAMI-VA and am a resident of the Mason District. Good afternoon and thank you for listening to me today. I have a couple of points which I would like you to hear and act on as you go to Richmond for the coming session.

First I need to talk about the budget cuts, which have already taken place in the Mental Health system. Adding up the cuts already in the budget plus the 10% levied by the Governor and there has been a total of 15.5% of our mental health dollars taken out of the system in the past 12 months. These cuts were not from a perfect system or an overfed system. Virginia is 12th in the nation in per capita income and even BEFORE the recent 15.5% cuts we were 43rd in the nation in mental health spending. 43rd and falling, how low will Virginia go?

My second topic is the restructuring plan proposed by the Governor, which purports to transfer services to the community from State facilities. Advocates have asked for a real system of community-based care for many years. The proposed plan is completely inadequate to make the transition to community care safely. Cutting community care drastically as we have done, and then saying that it is possible to create services in the community for hospitalized folks, with NO MONEY to create the services they need, is not possible. A dollar being used to care for an individual in a hospital cannot simultaneously be used to create the supports needed for community living. The reality is the Governors' so called restructuring plan does not pass the laugh test. We want restructuring, but we want it done right, by carefully assessing needs, and adequately funding the housing and supports needed for people to survive and to thrive.

Another difficulty with the restructuring plan is that it specifically calls for closing of acute care beds at some state hospitals. This is a nightmare in the making for consumers, families and providers. The community hospital beds simply are not available and adequate to meet the needs we already have. It is a fallacy to assume that community hospitals can provide more beds and keep mental health consumers from sitting in emergency rooms for sometimes days or being refused admission because there is no room, which is already occurring in the state. Consumers end up unable to access care at state or local hospitals, and now we have cut the skin off the bones of the skeleton of our community services system, even to paring down crisis services in the community.

Thousands and thousands of citizens of the Commonwealth require services and supports to be healthy active members of our society. And we have a moral obligation to provide those supports. All pain is not equal. A day spent at DMV is not equal to a day spent begging for help for someone you love, to keep them from dying. The progress we made in recent years, as you funded medications, residential services and assertive community treatment, that progress is all melting away in one budget cycle. Funding must be restored to the mental health system and the budget balanced another way. Community care in Virginia is long overdue and needs a carefully thought out, well-funded plan to become a reality. I am asking you to take the high road -- restore funding, demand a real reinvestment plan with full stakeholder involvement, then implement it.

Thank you.

Caitlin Wright Binning, MSW