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Roemer visits mental health clinic to address ‘a silent issue’

ROCHESTER - Until Friday, no presidential candidate had ever visited mental health clinic Community Partners.

There aren't many votes to stump for here and the issues dealt with aren't at the forefront of the national conversation, so Executive Director Brian Collins was excited at the prospect of a visit by any candidate, even a second-tier one like former Louisiana governor and congressman Buddy Roemer.

'Mental health is a silent issue, it's a silent disability' with no advocate or champion, Collins said.

In Roemer, Collins may have found just what he was looking for.

Roemer, who is competing for the Republican nomination in Tuesday's primary, took his time to ask Collins and his employees questions like how they're funded, what challenges they face and what effects the new health care law will have.

'I think the business of health is so important to America,' Roemer said.

It is organizations like Community Partners that face cuts in tough economic times like these, Roemer said. To many politicians, it is simply a line item on a budget, but to him it is not.

Roemer said he nearly made a mistake like that years ago as governor, when he was about to shutter a hospital. Before doing so, he made an unannounced visit on Sunday and found doctors and staff thoroughly dedicated to helping those in need.

'The budget didn't tell the full story,' Roemer said.

He kept the hospital open.

Hard work, long hours

Roemer said Community Partners is like that hospital, a place where people work long hours for little money. He said it's important for any presidential candidate to visit places like this to know where it is they're cutting funding or even where tax money is going.

The Community Partners clinic here is in an ugly, functional cement building colored a drab light brown even though it also houses a Sherwin Williams paint store.

To get from one part of the clinic to another, visitors actually have to walk outside into the January cold even though everything is in the same building.

There's nothing flashy about this place.

Collins said he can't remember the last time employees got raises, which leads to a high turnover rate. But the need for such a place has soared from three years ago to last year, with significantly more families and children visiting, Collins said, largely because a tough economy can exacerbate mental health issues.

'From 700 to 1,000 in one category over a two year period, those are real lives,' Collins said of the increase in patients.

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