Meeting with Division and Department Leadership Last Friday

In February of this year, a process for dialog was initiatied by consumer leaders and key staff from the Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse Services as well as leadership from the Department of Health and Human Services.  There was a regular meeting of these parties on Friday October 15th. 

In attendance were Dr. Beth Melcher, Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services for Mental Health; Mr. Steve Jordan, the Director of the Division of MHDDSAS; Stuart Berde from the Customer Services and Advocacy Section at the Division and approximately ten consumer participants.  People attended from across the state, with some teleconferencing by phone.

The agenda addressed specifically the need to promote a recovery-focused service system, including the establishment of a free-standing peer support role that can be responsive, effective, and sufficiently reimbursed so that providers would dedicate themselves to using peer support services.  Currently, we are aware that many CABHB providers are not intending to use the service because it is not cost-efficient to them. 

North Carolina has submitted a service definition to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid (called “CMS”) hoping that the federal goverment will approve it for reimbursement with federal dollars.   NC’s first draft was sent back for futher work by CMS and has now been re-submitted for approval.  But at this point, those who understand the need and results of these services the best–people who themselves live with mental illness but understand the role of peers in supporting growth, progress, and making the right choices–feel they have had no meaningful input into defining the service. 

This is important because in states where systems are having results measured in terms of improved quality of life and fewer hospitalizations, the role of self-help and mutual support are integral to the service system.  Peer support is strong, and organized efforts of peer support networks have helped to enhance provider systems with a new culture of care.  The emphasis of provider agencies is not merely on managing symptoms with medications, but moves toward supporting a person’s progress in many areas of his life. 

The discussion helped to focus officials on the role that the reimbursement rate and other technical issues have on growing the use of peer support in North Carolina and therefore yielding the outcomes we all prefer.   It also reinforced the hopes of consumers that the new leadership will be dedicated to bringing currently known and studied practices into North Carolina that foster long-term life success in the lives of people with disabilities.

Dr. Melcher and Mr. Jordan were very attentive and engaging and seemed to value the input by various participantes.   Mr. Berde gave a report on his efforts to develop, with input from the consumer group, a formalized process for recruiting consumers (and family members) to serve on various work groups and committees within the Division.  His aim is to promote a more consumer-informed system.  He and some of his staff have been very dedicated to the value of consumer input into maximizing Division outreach and support through their section.

The Division web site will soon make available the form for advocates and self-advocates that they can submit if they want to help on work groups or committees.  It will also list upcoming workgroups as they develop so that more consumers can be among those who inform the changes in our public system. 

If you are interested in participating in the dialogs with these leaders, you can email me for more information.  The meetings are not limited just to mental health topics, though these have come to the fore lately because of CABHA and other influences.  The meetings aim to be open to all and transparent in their intent.  (Email lauriecoker@bellsouth.net ).

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