The National Alliance on Mental Illness released a report recently that showed Kentucky was the worst state in the union when it came to cutting funding for mental health issues. It said we had cut funding 47.5 percent over a two-year period. Turns out that was wrong.
After receiving complaints from Central Kentucky NAMI leaders and others, the national office re-examined its numbers and admitted it had messed up.
For once, Kentucky falling from the No. 1 spot is not a bad thing.
"We are correcting the report," said Bob Carolla, the national NAMI office's director of media relations. "In reviewing the numbers, Kentucky had a $5.4 million increase in funding for 2009 to 2011. That represents a 3 percent increase for that period."
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When I saw the initial findings of the report, called "State of Mental Health Cuts: A National Crisis," I thought: Here we go again.
I thought we were in our familiar spot behind the curve in yet another important issue.
I called Kelly Gunning of NAMI Lexington, one of the most committed advocates for mental health care in Kentucky. I wanted to know how the state went down the wrong path.
She said she didn't agree with the numbers. She and her husband, Phil, executive director of NAMI Lexington, questioned the report from the start and began writing and calling state and national officials for an explanation.
"There was a big question mark over this report," she said.
She said several mental health advocates had worked diligently with former Gov. Ernie Fletcher and Gov. Steve Beshear to keep a manageable amount of funding for mental health issues in the budget.
Gunning said mental health care has experienced flat funding in the state budget for more than 15 years. And though she'd love to have more money, flat is better than a nosedive.
"We watch this very carefully," she said. "If there had been a 47 percent cut, there would be little mental health care" and then only in emergency and crisis services.
"I wish they would have consulted some of us foot soldiers down here at ground zero. We could have given them some important and accurate information."
Carolla said the error was made in the interpretation of the finer details of the state budget. "We had double-checked, and now we want to go back and triple-check" the data, he said. "Overall, we are very confident of the report."
The national organization, Carolla said, would be issuing a statement correcting the report in the coming days, perhaps this week. "We want to make sure it is clear and concise when we do it," he said.
He said the revised report will show that Kentucky ranks No. 12 on the list of states that increased funding instead of the worst of those that took money away.
That's fine, but the report and Kentucky's dubious standing in it have appeared in numerous publications and on many Web sites throughout the nation, including this newspaper's, Kentucky.com. The sensational sells, and that report, depicting Kentucky as the biggest demon, seems to have gotten a lot of play.
"None of us living this existence impacted one way or another by serious mental illness — our own or that of a loved one — needs another study or report or sensational headline to tell us we're struggling mightily on all fronts related to serious mental illness and substance abuse," Gunning said.
She said four more groups — NAMI Lexington, Kentucky Mental Health Coalition, Bluegrass Regional Mental Health, and Kentucky Association of Regional Programs — have "advocated unceasingly" for appropriate funding levels just to keep what they had.
All the while, Gunning said, "the need for services escalates, particularly in dire economic cycles, as more individuals lose jobs, homes and health insurance."
She said that committed advocacy during the two years covered in the report helped dodge cuts that would have killed many of the services that still manage to exist. "I know we were heard when we said, 'We have nothing left to cut,'" she said.
Plus, she said, the state's willingness to replace Eastern State Hospital in Lexington with a newer, better facility, was an answer to the fervent pleas of so many in the mental health community.
Advocates learned to pool services, collaborate more and try more inventive and innovative ways to help the mentally ill and their families, Gunning said. "We had no new money, but we had new ideas," she said.
Had the national organization asked, she would have told them about that and how Kentucky is more receptive to the needs of the mental health community than most states, and nowhere near the worst.
Let's see how gifted NAMI is at unringing that bell when so many people, including me, were ready to believe it.