Tomorrow's editorial today:
Commissioners did disservice bowing to misconceptions.
Huntersville town commissioners’ rejection Monday of rezoning for a psychiatric hospital was sadly summed up in the words of one resident. Said Steve Owens: “We need this facility, just not right in my backyard.”
It’s easy to empathize with Owens and other residents of a neighboring subdivision who opposed a Carolinas HealthCare System mental health facility near their homes. The residents noted traffic concerns but focused most comments on their true concern – a fear that mental health patients could harm their children.
Yet as it is with most NIMBY (not in my back yard) fears, these are largely unfounded. They are based on lack of knowledge and persistent stigma and myths about mental illness. Commissioners should not have bowed to such fears. But they did, in a 4-2 vote. Now critically needed services are in limbo.
How badly are those services needed? A 2010 mental health alliance report showed people across the state languishing in hospital emergency rooms for days unable to get treatment. A 2001 state reform that cut the number of state psychiatric hospitals to treat more patients privately spawned the problem. About half of the state-operated hospital beds have closed, but there have not been enough private beds created to meet the needs. Mecklenburg County’s lack of beds has resulted in some patients being held in observation in hospital emergency departments or acute care beds while waiting for placement. Overcrowding at Mecklenburg County’s CMC-Randolph, the county’s behavioral mental health hospital, has been so bad that patients have been sent home without ever getting hospital care.
The Huntersville facility would have been a great help in getting patients needed services in a timelier manner. The facility was to house patients with behavioral issues only, not those with substance abuse or sexual disorders.
The hospital had already gotten the approval of the town planning board in an 8-1 vote and support from the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce, whose president touted both the economic benefits (155 jobs were expected) and the fact that such facilities have proven to have positive, not detrimental, impact on neighborhoods.
The two commissioners who voted for the rezoning educated themselves by visiting CMC-Randolph in Charlotte. Melinda Bales, who had concerns, said the visit was an eye-opener. “It was very tranquil,” she said of CMC-Randolph, “and not what I was expecting.”
More people should educate themselves about such facilities and about mental illness in general. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a medical condition that needs treatment.
It is also a common malady. One fifth of Americans suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder during any given year. One fifth of school-age children do too.
Sadly, the biggest misconception about the mentally ill continues to be the most persuasive against them – that people with mental illnesses are violent. The vast majority are not. Experts note rightly that the mentally ill are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.
The mentally ill are not strangers. They are our friends, neighbors and family – and sometimes they are us. An action like Huntersville’s, based on misconceptions and unfounded fears, is a disservice to our communities and everyone in them.
Posted by the Observer editorial board
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Tomorrow's editorial today: