One of the most significant challenges our community faces is how to help those with mental illness.
Our system is fractured and inadequate and despite a lot of talk by our local leaders, progress is not being made, leaving our most vulnerable to continue to suffer or worse.
A glimmer of hope existed when the leadership of Benton and Franklin counties deemed mental health care a priority and vowed to finally work together on an issue. Commissioners on both sides of the river have struggled to try to work together for the common good of the region on all manner of issues over the years.
Whether it’s ego or philosophical or fiscal differences, something always seems to disrupt progress when the two counties are involved.
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And, sadly, that is just what has happened again in regard to mental health services. The counties had vowed to work together to develop a comprehensive system for the community. The state is requiring counties have a plan in place for a privatized system by 2020 for mental health care or have one imposed upon them.
The need for services is real and evident. Too many times we have seen those suffering mental illness incarcerated and caused further suffering through lack of treatment or people who have given up altogether and taken their own lives for lack of care.
So with the clock ticking, the counties decided more than a year ago to hire a consultant from Texas as the first step toward a plan to improve mental health services in the community. And now a year has passed and they still don’t have a consultant. Or a plan.
To top it off, the two counties have decided to hire their own individual consultants, which will take them on separate paths, killing what had been a rare chance for them to put their differences aside in order to build a better community.
That the two counties can’t work together on something so important is decidedly unacceptable. Voters should remember that when they cast their ballots this fall. We need leaders who can focus on problems and solve them in a timely manner, not get tripped up by politics and personalities.
They have already lost a year of critical planning time in negotiations with a consultant who they could not come to an agreement with. That was far too long to have negotiations linger. Benton County is moving on with a local consultant who had been their first choice anyway. Franklin County hopes to eventually reach a deal with the Texas consultant.
In the meantime, people continue to suffer. By their inaction, the county commissioners have caused real harm to those most in need, the most vulnerable of those they have vowed to represent.
It appears hope is lost for a joint effort to create a comprehensive mental health care system. What our commissioners fail to realize is that people are in crisis and a river doesn’t stop their needs or their suffering. The welfare of the community is at stake and our leaders should be held accountable. The time for action is now.