Why a Mental Health Task Force?

Last summer, the Mayor mentioned to me that former Commissioner Margaret Brown and others had been talking with him about problems that had emerged in the mental health care system, post-state reform. While I haven’t worked in the mental health field for years, I immediately thought back to my experience in community mental health in Boston during the period of “deinstitutionalization” in Massachusetts. I remembered the sense of chaos felt by service providers and consumers alike as funding was reallocated, service programs were shut down, and people were disconnected from providers they knew or couldn’t find support they needed.

Flash forward a few months to when the Mayor asked me to chair a Task Force charged with assessing the state of mental health services in Chapel Hill and environs, increasing awareness of mental health issues in our community and making recommendations to the Mayor and Council. It really didn’t take me long to decide that this was something I wanted to do. Again, my initial point of reference was my experience in Boston, which left me with a life long career interest in improving public and nonprofit human service delivery structures.

However, as I engaged in a series of telephone conversations with prospective members, “why a mental health task force” here and now quickly became apparent. I began to hear that:

  • Implementing the change of mandate and associated restructuring of the Orange-Person-Chatham (OPC) area program has been difficult (to say the least) and the network of services seems not to be a network;
  • Even with UNC serving as a sort of “provider of last resort”, one wonders if there is really a “safety net” in place for all those individuals who don’t already have insurance or Medicaid eligibility;
  • Individuals in all age groups and with a variety of service needs have trouble negotiating the mysterious “system” – especially if they are not immediately in crisis; and
  • (With all due respect) it would seem that the various State players have no vision, no plan, no solutions, no coordination and few funds to offer…

Today, after just two months of Task Force discussions, I am very clear that the dialogue that we can encourage, the sifting and sorting of perspectives, and some of the ideas already on the table can make a difference.

Natalie Ammarell, Task Force Chair

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