Mental health patients are being short-changed


POSTED: Monday, August 24, 2009

The state's Adult Mental Health Division (AMHD) under the Department of Health is not directing mental health funds to where they are needed.

A vital community mental health clinic in Kailua was recently closed, forcing over 100 mental health consumers residing in Kailua to now catch two buses to the already overcrowded Kaneohe clinic near the State Hospital.

This will greatly inconvenience many of these mentally ill individuals who are very upset about this closure. This is a public safety issue, as many of these mental health consumers will simply fall through the cracks and not receive the treatment they need.

We are all aware that the state is in a fiscal crisis. However, the cost of $24,000 for yearly lease rent for the Kailua Counseling Center is small in comparison to other projects funded by the state. It is ironic that we are able to save the Kailua Fourth of July fireworks display through private donations, but the state is unable to make this clinic a priority as mental health care is on the bottom rung of the social ladder.

Unfortunately, the AMHD has transformed from a medical model to a social work model where social workers are directing MDs and nurses. The AMHD is paying the system administrator, a social worker residing on Kauai, a hefty salary. Hawaii's taxpayers would not be pleased learning that they are footing the bill for his individual's travel back and forth each day from his residence on Kauai.

(Editor's note: Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo acknowledges the system administrator's Kauai residency but says the job requires travel to oversee clinics statewide and his salary remains the same as when he was Kauai Mental Health Clinic's administrator. “;He doesn't travel daily, maybe three times a week. We do pay for his travel,”; Okubo said. “;We're trying to reduce travel now.”; Teleconferencing options are being explored.)

There has been public outcry over the Kailua clinic's closure but these individuals have been quickly silenced to avoid any negative publicity. The division needs to greatly reduce the top-heavy administrators and provide more support for the front-line workers such as MDs and nurses.

There is a huge nursing shortage occurring and it is projected to only get worse. Instead of getting rid of professionals such as nurses, the AMHD needs to provide the tools for nurses to effectively perform their job duties. Money needs to be diverted away from the administrative salaries and directed to the mental health consumers who deserve better care.

John Callaway of Kailua is a board-certified advanced practice registered nurse.