MONTPELIER >> The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Vermont (NAMI VT), Vermont Care Partners and the Vermont Association for Mental Health and Addiction Recovery (VAMHAR) will lead a gathering of stakeholders in Vermont's mental health system of care, to call on Vermont legislators to protect and improve mental health care funding on March 17 at the Statehouse. Mental Health Advocacy Day will include opportunities to interact with legislators, hear from state mental health leaders, and listen to shared stories from individuals with lived experience of mental illness. Mental Health Advocacy Day's theme is to "Improve Funding to Ensure Access."
Mental health budgets are being compromised and undermined on a host of issues this legislative session—from group therapy Medicaid reimbursement rate cuts, to proposed changes to involuntary treatment and medication laws, to marijuana legalization and public funding for vulnerable Vermonters. "Mental health funding must be a higher priority in Vermont," says Laurie Emerson, NAMI Vermont's executive director. "The lives of some of our most vulnerable citizens are literally at stake. While health care costs continue to rise, the need for mental health care has also increased and we must improve funding to ensure access to mental health services."
In Vermont approximately 23,000 adults and 6,000 children and teenagers face serious mental illness. People living with mental illness can lead fulfilling, productive lives, but only with access to treatment. Both access to treatment, and the philosophy of patient-centered care, will deteriorate if continually underfunded. Medicaid reimbursement rate cuts are already affecting the state's community-based providers. "Access to and quality of treatment is compromised by rapid staff turnover and vacancies. Hundreds of Vermonters are on waiting lists because of staff vacancies," says Julie Tessler of Vermont Care Partners, which represents the designated community mental health and developmental disability agencies. NAMI Vermont, Vermont Care Partners and VAMHAR all call for Medicaid reimbursement rates that will improve, rather than diminish, access to mental health services. "The agencies are experiencing a significant staffing crisis, as they are unable to keep up with salaries offered outside of the agency system," says VAMHAR's Peter Mallary.
Funding for and access to mental health services are more important now than ever. NAMI Vermont, Vermont Care Partners, and VAMHAR, along with 33 other organizations representing the state's mental health stakeholders will gather on March 17 from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. to call on the legislature to improve funding to ensure access.
About the organizations
• The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Vermont is a grassroots mental health organization dedicated to improving the lives of Vermont individuals and families affected by mental illness.
• The Vermont Association for Mental Health & Addiction Recovery is a statewide information and advocacy organization that supports all paths to recovery from addiction and mental health conditions.
• Vermont Care Partners is an organization representing 16 non-profit community-based agencies that provide developmental, mental health and substance abuse services to Vermonters.