It seems that every time there is a horrendous tragedy involving public mental health care in Maricopa County, the media, including Tribune, focuses on the failings of this chronically broken system.
Whether it was under the previous auspices of Codama, Comcare, ValueOptions, or under the current Magellan Health of Arizona, the unwieldy public mental health system has always been inadequate to meet the complicated needs of the growing population of those psychiatrically ill and substance abusing Arizonans without alternative coverage.
During a period of simultaneous population growth and de-institutionalization, our state’s attempt to fix the many problems in the system have only been further hindered by trying to fit a system that serves chronically ill patients into the commercial-managed care model used by for-profit entities.
There are at least two more sad truths to this story. The first is that we all have known for many years that the system is broken. Ask the family members of the chronically mentally ill.
Ask the psychiatrists and other mental health professionals that work in both the public and private sector. Ask the police officers who deal with the difficult to manage interface between mental illness and the legal system. Ask the mental health consumers, who have had to deal with multiple changes in providers, all the while being promised “a better system” with each change.
The second sad truth is that many of us still, even as the 21st century ushers in a new generation of brain illness research, believe that psychiatric disorders and substance abuse problems are shameful, rather than treatable disease states.
Until we see mental illness as a true illness, and resolve to commit the financial and intellectual resources that this complicated problem requires, we will continue to be intermittently saddened and outraged by the most obvious shortcomings of our collective efforts.