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Rep. Becky Currie a voice for mentally ill

A Brookhaven legislator will be a voice in Washington D.C. for those suffering mental illness.

Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, was asked to serve on the White House Mental Health Task Force in the nation’s capital.

“I was thrilled to be asked and excited to hear from the Trump administration — and from President Trump himself — the plans he has to reform the mental health system that has failed mentally ill nationwide,” she said.

Currie heard many speakers at the task force meeting in Washington D.C. this month, including media personality Dr. Drew Pinsky, an internist and addiction medicine specialist who hosted a nationally syndicated radio talk show “Loveline” from 1984 to 2016.

“It wasn’t because I was star struck, but I was so impressed with his knowledge of the failed mental health system and to hear how passionate he was,” she said. “He vowed to give his time to the administration to help correct this system. He was the first to bring this problem to President Trump’s attention.”

Currie said Pinsky pointed to the number of state hospitals nationwide that were closed, leaving fewer resources for those suffering from mental illness.

“They did this in Mississippi a few years ago and sent the Department of Justice in and said we must ‘Discharge these patients now or we will fine you $80 million to $100 million,’” she said. “As in other states, our community-based services were not prepared to take on these patients. We are very lucky in here in District 92 that we have Region 8 and the Crisis Center. In most towns in Mississippi they don’t have this and patients that have been discharged are now homeless or in jail or honestly we don’t know where they are.”

She said some cities in Mississippi don’t have the tax base to provide the community mental health serves and likely never will.

“But we must have a state hospital and other programs to take care of these patients and their needs,” she said. “We don’t need a hospital that costs taxpayers millions of dollars that won’t admit patients and leave them in jail.”

She said that would be the same as telling an elderly patient in a nursing home,  ‘Sorry, you are not able to take care of yourself, we know you won’t be able to eat or get your medicine, but you are going to have to be discharged today and good luck.’ “This is exactly what happened here and apparently in other states as well,” she said.

Currie, who also works full time as a nurse, said task force participants in other states are frustrated by the same issues Mississippi faces.

“Every one of them said that their state mental health hospital system and their community mental health have no conversations and that nobody is rowing the boat in the same direction to get the best final product,” she said. “The president talked about his hometown in Queens, New York, that they had a beautiful hospital that took care of the extremely mentally ill and now they have closed the doors and the patients are roaming the streets. He said it is a tragedy and he has big plans to fix it.”

Currie said Trump’s cabinet is working on the issue and many spoke to the task force about their plans.

“You could feel their excitement,” she said. “They discussed plans on legislation that should be bipartisan and get through Congress to begin mental health reform.”

She heard from Dr. Ben Carson, who is over US Department of Housing or HUD and discussed plans for helping mentally ill people with housing.

“As a registered nurse, all I could think about when he spoke were the patients roaming the street not getting the medicine or care that they need. Brain cells are not like any other cell in the body when they die. They are gone forever and do not rejuvenate. Without the proper care, these patients then become violent and end up in prison where they never receive the care that they need. When released they are homeless again and are worse off than ever before.”

Secretary Alex Azar, head of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, discussed a Medicaid waiver program that deals with Medicaid expansion so that states will be able to afford getting their state mental hospitals up and running again.

“There are patients that need inpatient care and not having it is a risk to themselves and the public,” Currie said. “He discussed increase to community-based services so if patients are able to be at home, we get the resources to them that they will need to be successful.”

Kellyanne Conway, who serves as a counselor to the president, also spoke at the meeting.

“She assured us she had the president’s ear and the work will continue to get done,” Currie said. “I left the meeting with a renewed sense of urgency and determination to come back and work on our mental health system. This is our responsibility and ignoring the problems won’t fix them. It is a system that will never be perfect. It will never make everyone happy but we must do better.

“Severely mentally ill people do not get well but they can manage their disease and have a better life. They didn’t ask to be sick. They didn’t cause it by leading a unhealthy life — they just are sick and it is in everyone’s best interest to care for them and make sure they have what they need to live the most productive life they can.”