To The Daily Sun,
On Tuesday, March 11, the voters of Gilford will go to the polls to decide how their tax dollars will be appropriated. As a Gilford resident and member of the Genesis Behavioral Health Board of Directors, I ask my fellow community members to vote "yes" on Article 21 to support emergency mental health care for all residents of our town.
Genesis Behavioral Health (GBH) is the community mental health center serving Belknap and southern Grafton counties. A private, non-profit organization founded in 1966 by Dr. George "Pete" Harris, a Gilford pediatrician who recognized the critical need for mental health services in the community, GBH provided behavioral health care to 3,274 Lakes Region children, families, and adults in Fiscal Year 2013.
GBH served 171 Gilford residents in Fiscal Year 2013 and provided $13,986 of uncompensated care – care the organization provided but for which they will not receive reimbursement. Thirty-six Gilford residents used emergency services in FY13.
This critical, safety net organization asks all 24 towns in its catchment area to contribute to the Emergency Services (ES) program, using a formula based upon the town's population to ensure fairness. ES provides any resident of Gilford experiencing a mental health emergency with access to a Master's-level clinician and psychiatrist 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, regardless of their ability to pay. Services are provided through a 24-hour hotline, in person, or via telemedicine to ensure rapid access to care.
We know from the headlines that the mental health crisis in New Hampshire is real. The National Institute on Mental Health reports that one in four adults experience a mental health disorder in a given year. Without proper treatment, mental illness affects one's ability to work, participate in school, contribute to the community and maintain relationships. The economic cost of untreated mental illness is more than $100 billion each year in the United States, causing unnecessary disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration, suicide and wasted lives. Reduced access to mental health care leads to increased demand on many of the systems in our community, including emergency rooms, law enforcement, first responders, courts, corrections, schools and municipalities. GBH not only helps those in need, but its services also reduce costs for our town and improve the health and safety of our community.
ES is often the gateway into services for people in need of mental health treatment. Access to behavioral health care was identified as a top priority in the Lakes Region Partnership for Public Health's 2013 Community Needs Assessment. Mental health related emergency department visits/observation stays in the Lakes Region are significantly higher than the overall New Hampshire rate (1,541.5 per 100,000 vs. 1,409.9). The need for crisis intervention in our community is evident.
Thank you for supporting GBH for the past four years. Any one of us, at any time, could be in a position to need their services. I am confident that my fellow Gilford residents will choose wisely and continue to appropriate funds to this worthwhile organization.
Dr. Kelley White