I have been an advocate for individuals living with mental illness in Arizona and other states for many years. I consider myself engaged and aware of the realities of the mental health system in Maricopa County — both past and current.
To that point, I became concerned when I read a guest column in this paper about the status of the system of care presently. It characterized a system in limbo and being held hostage. I don’t believe this to be true; it’s not what I’ve seen for myself. The guest columnist left out important details about what those who access the system routinely are really experiencing.
Over the past nearly six years, I’ve witnessed a system of care that is making progress. There are still aspects of the service delivery that I think need continued, focused work; but, much forward momentum has been achieved, and the people served are benefitting. The key point here is that things are moving in the right direction.
A clear example, and one that was mischaracterized in the column, is integrated care services. In 2011, under the leadership of Gov. Jan Brewer, Integrated Health Homes were introduced to the system. My research finds they operate today in 10 of the 20 mental health clinics in Maricopa County, and through coordinated care seek to address the physical and behavioral health needs of individuals challenged with severe mental illness. This coordination of care, which has been occurring for two years now, is long overdue and it’s progress to see that it is happening now for the many who need it.
Citizens with serious mental illness in Maricopa County are not being held hostage. Services continue to be delivered, and people are working on their recovery. The only reality that is important, in my opinion, is the impact that change will have on people receiving services from the system of care, if the state switches system managers, which is currently being debated.
From my experienced perspective, change has always been difficult and confusing for those challenged with mental illness and substance abuse. If we have forward momentum in the system of care, including two years of integrated care services being delivered, why change?
It is better to build a system slowly—which has been happening since 2007—rather than to start over, every so many years, which has been the history of the system to date. Let’s keep the momentum moving forward.
Joe Prawdzik, who has worked in the behavioral health industry for 22 years, is a member of the Magellan Health Services of Arizona Governance Board