State cuts threaten mental health program

 

Greenfield Recorder 04/06/2015, Page C03

By CHRIS CURTIS Recorder Staff

GREENFIELD — Faced with a proposed 50 percent cut to their state funding, a statewide mental health outreach and peer services program with an office on Federal Street is bracing for the prospect of closing centers, laying off staff, and maybe fading away entirely.

Sera Davidow, Western Mass. Recovery Learning Community director, said the cut in the governor’s budget came as a surprise, even in the current climate.

“It was something that was very unexpected, we really had been told by (the Department of Mental Health) and believed ourselves that we were so small that a cut of this size would really decimate us and not do much for the overall deficit,” Davidow said.

The program is funded through the DMH to the tune of $3.4 million, spread across staff, rent and programs at six centers. The cut would drop the shared budget to $1.7 million.

“We’re going to have to lay people off and close centers,” Davidow said.

Rents and wages for open hours would be the first and biggest expense to be cut, but outreach services such as the group’s hospital visits might last for a time, she said. “A 50-percent cut, it’s hard to imagine surviving long-term,” Davidow said.

Davidow said the Greenfield center on Federal Street has three permanent part-time employees and generally around 10 more people in some sort of paid role, as well as volunteers.

The center is next door to the RECOVER Project and shared space with the peerto- peer addiction recovery organization when the mental health-focused organization began in 2008, separating in 2011. The two share an umbrella organization, The Western Massachusetts Training Consortium, and a service model offering support through peers rather than the traditional addiction and mental health treatment systems.

Davidow said the group hasn’t had an explanation for the governor’s cut, but believes the program suffers from a mistaken view that it is an accessory or an extra to the existing system.

“People are somehow seeing us as an add-on or an extra, and our experience is that we are reaching people who either can’t access the mental health system due to red tape or are alienated from that system,” Davidow said.

Samadi Demme, coordinator for the Greenfield center, said the center sees about 100 distinct individuals per month, some coming to multiple groups and activities, others participating only in the acupuncture program, the Alternatives to Suicide or Hearing Voices support groups or the mindfulnessand meditation groups, among other free programs.

Some, he said, treat the space as a living room.

“A lot of people who come to the space relate to it like their living room, like their family, and I don’t see how we could possibly have that still,” Demme said.

Demme said many participants come to the center from Baystate Franklin Medical Center’s partial hospitalization program, an outpatient mental health day program, and the center provides a bridge from the structure of the hospital back to their daily lives.

“Our community provides not just the structure but the community, people who have been there, people who can understand, people who are recovering, learning, growing themselves,” Demme said.

Demme said that’s something many don’t find in the traditional medical system.

“People have struggles. People have a hard time. People experience trauma and they don’t necessarily need medication or they don’t feel like they have a disease or an illness but they need support. They need people who understand, who can relate to their experience and I think that’s the gap that we’re filling,” he said.

The Recovery Learning Community rallied April 1 in front of the Statehouse. Davidow said Rep. Paul Mark took them up on an invitation to visit the Greenfield center and Davidow hopes supporters will contact their legislators, particularly those on the House Ways and Means Committee, which is to release its version of the budget this month.

You can reach Chris Curtis at: ccurtis@recorder.comor 413-772-0261, ext. 257