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My view: A little clarification on the state of our mental health affairs

By John Pingree

Published: Sunday, July 21 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

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Clarification on recent issues surrounding Valley Mental Health and the state of mental health affairs in Salt Lake County will serve all of us well.

Just as the Deseret News focuses on family and caring for the poor as two of its core areas of emphasis, VMH has a long-standing record of treating Salt Lake County residents to cope with mental illness conditions, which stabilizes family relations and is often a key step to emerging from a situation of poverty.

Because mental illnesses continue to increase, this is no time to attack, no time to blame, no time to act in any other way than with a compassionate approach to help those with mental illness continue to find solutions.

Fact 1: Optum Healthcare, the for-profit entity Salt Lake County hired two years ago to govern the administration of funding mental health services in the county, has reduced funding to VMH by more than $5 million since 2012.

When budgets get reduced in any situation, family or business, those with stewardship over the budgets must identify areas to reduce also. Conversely, when budgets increase, stewards over the budgets are charged to manage those increases, as well. Simply put, budgets play an enormous role in decisions, especially with nonprofit entities such as VMH.

Fact 2: VMH is in the business of providing service to those with mental illnesses. Its very mission is to provide service to improve, enhance and promote the emotional well-being, growth and recovery of individuals who experience life-disrupting problems due to mental illness and chemical abuse.

Reducing services is not in VMH's plan. Therefore, it is extremely painful to inform long-standing clients that reduced budgets mean treatment for them will need to be received elsewhere in the Optum system of providers.

VMH is not blaming anyone for the reduction. It is, however, working to verify its former clients have seamless transitions for continued care and necessary medication.

Fact 3: Mayor Ben McAdams has discussed requesting an audit of VMH. Citizens clarified they want an audit of all entities in the Salt Lake County mental illness services system. VMH welcomes this with open arms. Transparency validates what's right and what's wrong, which allows needed correction.

Therefore, that review would start at the top with Salt Lake County Health Department, then with the administrator of the funds, Optum; and also with the care provider, VMH. The downside to this is the cost to taxpayers, but if an audit is conducted, let's include all participants. Answers found in that analysis will punctuate our collective purpose, which is to effectively care for the mentally ill in the county.

Working together, serving for the good of mankind and providing much needed help to those with mental illness is the most productive approach to continuing to care for our fellow men, women and children. It is an effective way to help stabilize families and to help those who suffer so they, too, can rise from lives that may be poor in spirit, physical settings and emotional disparity.

Let's seal away any hint of petty attacks and public outrage. Instead, let's remember we are here to help those in need, to lift others up and to make life a little bit better one person — one family — at a time.

Retired and involved in volunteer work, John Pingree is a Valley Mental Health board director, former general manager of UTA and has served on the Utah Board of Regents, Utah State Board of Education, State Charter School Board and Community Treatment Alternatives Board, which treats adults and adolescents with autism.

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