Post-Har­vey health

A $20 mil­lion do­na­tion helps fill a large gap left by un­re­spon­sive gov­ern­ment.

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - OUTLOOK -

Even af­ter the wa­ters re­ceded and homes re­paired, the in­vis­i­ble wounds in­flicted by Hur­ri­cane Har­vey have yet to heal for far too many Hous­to­ni­ans.

Post-trau­matic stress and other men­tal health is­sues still wrack those who sur­vived the storm, and the usual in­sur­ance ad­justers and re­pair crews still swarm­ing the city don’t have the tools to ad­dress this prob­lem. Those in­sti­tu­tions re­spon­si­ble for pub­lic health, such as City Hall and Har­ris County, lack the re­sources nec­es­sary to of­fer ro­bust ser­vices.

En­ter phi­lan­thropists Mau­reen and Jim Hack­ett, who do­nated $20 mil­lion to cre­ate a re­gional men­tal health pol­icy cen­ter (“$20 mil­lion gifted for men­tal health pol­icy,” Page A1, Jan. 8).

The do­na­tion, which is be­lieved to be one of the largest ever for a men­tal health en­deavor, will ini­tially tar­get chil­dren, ex­pected to be some of Har­vey’s hard­est hit and most over­looked vic­tims. Chil­dren’s in­creased sus­cep­ti­bil­ity to men­tal health con­di­tions doesn’t peak un­til about 18 months af­ter a dis­as­ter ac­cord­ing to ex­perts, so the cen­ter — sched­uled to be­come op­er­a­tional Jan. 15 — will help co­or­di­nate re­sources avail­able to providers of ser­vices for chil­dren dur­ing the pe­riod of their height­ened vul­ner­a­bil­ity.

In the storm’s worst af­fected ar­eas, rates of post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der could be as much as five times more than pre-hur­ri­cane rates in youth 5 to 11 years old; three times more in those 12 to 17 years old; and six times higher in par­ents and care­givers and school per­son­nel, ac­cord­ing to re­search con­ducted by the Mead­ows Men­tal Health Pol­icy In­sti­tute.

Al­though the Texas econ­omy has boomed, the bud­get for men­tal ser­vices hasn’t kept pace. Har­ris County’s men­tal health care sys­tem, strained for decades, doesn’t have the ca­pac­ity to meet the in­creased de­mands in the af­ter­math of the dis­as­ter.

If you doubt the ex­is­tence of a bud­ding men­tal health cri­sis, ask any teacher, law en­force­ment of­fi­cer or doc­tor who deals with the de­liv­ery of so­cial ser­vices. Or con­sider that the largest provider of men­tal health ser­vices in the area is not a cen­ter set up to ad­min­is­ter so­cial ser­vices but the Har­ris County Jail.

“Har­vey didn’t cre­ate ev­ery prob­lem we have in Hous­ton, but it both ex­posed and el­e­vated the need for be­hav­ioral health ser­vices,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said re­cently. We’ve made so much progress in the di­ag­no­sis and cure of men­tal health ser­vices, it’s in­ex­cus­able that the de­liv­ery of ser­vices lags so far be­hind.

The Hack­etts aren’t new­com­ers to the men­tal health field. Their gen­eros­ity ex­tends from the Har­ris County Felony Men­tal Health Court and the Har­ris Cen­ter for In­tel­lec­tual and De­vel­op­men­tal Dis­abil­ity to such na­tional groups as the Alzheimer’s As­so­ci­a­tion and Amer­i­can Psy­chi­atric Foun­da­tion. In ad­di­tion, the Hack­etts helped found a men­tal health chan­nel that fo­cuses on pos­i­tive sto­ries sur­round­ing men­tal health chal­lenges.

But Hous­ton can­not rely ex­clu­sively on the good-willed and char­i­ta­ble to sup­port ba­sic men­tal health needs. Har­ris County and our state leg­is­la­tors need to en­sure par­ity be­tween men­tal health and phys­i­cal health. Ex­pand­ing Med­i­caid at a state level would help en­sure that Texas re­ceives the fed­eral dol­lars nec­es­sary to fund th­ese ser­vices, in­stead of forc­ing coun­ties to rely on prop­erty taxes.

Mau­reen and Jim Hack­ett de­serve praise for their con­tri­bu­tion to our com­mu­nity’s men­tal health in­fra­struc­ture. What all too many peo­ple see as a prob­lem with no solution, they see as an op­por­tu­nity.

If only our Austin politi­cians shared their vi­sion.

Mau­reen and Jim Hack­ett de­serve praise for their con­tri­bu­tion to our com­mu­nity’s men­tal health in­fra­struc­ture. What all too many peo­ple see as a prob­lem with no solution, they see as an op­por­tu­nity.

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