Funding. In some respects it’s a dirty word that gets in the way of a lot of decent proposals making their way to the State House. But when it comes to the issue of mental health, I think Gov. Chris Sununu sees the bigger picture.
In his recent 2019 budget address, the governor announced plans for something long overdue — a $40 million investment for a new state-of-the-art facility to move those civilly committed out of the State Prison and into a new and secure forensic hospital.
Sununu said he wants to re-engineer our mental health system with a 10-year plan. It’s refreshing to see someone who holds high political office actually put mental illness at the top of an agenda and continue to chip away at the cruel stigma that has existed for far too long.
It is unacceptable for people in the throes of a mental health crisis to wait weeks for treatment, but unfortunately that’s what happens across the state.
I have listened to numerous sad stories in this regard where a loved one’s family member is left basically stranded in the corner of an ER.
As part of his multi-pronged effort, Sununu plans to change these conditions. Said the governor: “For the state’s part, we are allocating $3 million in immediate, one-time funding for grants to hospitals to create new treatment beds, and develop a solution to address the immediate due process needs of individuals who are waiting in emergency rooms today.”
The governor says New Hampshire is stepping up to do its part, and he’s hoping the state’s hospitals join in the effort.
Ken Norton, executive director of the New Hampshire chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), is hopeful Sununu’s mental health goals see fruition. Norton is the right person in this important role who has provided education, support and advocacy to thousands of Granite Staters. For his entire career he has fought to improve the conditions of those who struggle with mental illness.
Norton recently told reporters, “It isn’t right to have people who have never committed a crime housed together in a correctional facility.”
Norma Smith is one of the longtime volunteer facilitators at NAMI of Greater Nashua. She’s a compassionate woman with an easy smile and a lot of knowledge. “Funding the Ten Year Mental Health Plan is paramount to rectifying the crisis we find ourselves battling,” she told me. “Also, we need to recognize that mental health challenges are at the root of many substance use disorders. Many positive steps have been taken; we need to continue building momentum.”
Smith believes that NAMI chapters are an excellent place to turn to. There are support and education groups for families and individuals living with mental illness and family-to-family classes.
“We serve as a resource on many boards and committees throughout the greater Nashua area, try to strengthen and initiate alliances within the community,” Norma said,
It will be interesting to see how the Legislature reacts to the governor’s plan. But from Sununu’s perspective, it’s all systems go.
“Once we pass that budget, we want to move forward and get things moving as fast as possible.”
Isn’t it time New Hampshire stopped sweeping mental illness under the carpet?
Ms. Stylianos is a Nashua native. Her column is published weekly. She can be reached at email@example.com.