Ohio's COVID governor wants to make his mark on another critical health priority impacting at least one-fifth of the population and their loved ones.Our collective mental health.In his second-term inaugural address Monday, Republican Mike DeWine again called for a transformation of the state's mental health system, correctly arguing that citizens need a dramatic expansion of services and providers.The governor vowed to unveil more mental health proposals in his two-year state budget in the coming weeks, building on a series of efforts he's made since before the pandemic challenged his first term and exacerbated mental health issues. Ohio also continues to confront a related drug epidemic that's claiming thousands of lives each year."We will transform Ohio into the best state in the nation for mental health treatment," DeWine said, citing the unfulfilled promises of President John F. Kennedy's Community Mental Health Act of 1963.DeWine's leadership on this problem should further destigmatize mental illness in our society and offers a welcome respite from recent self-serving politics at the Statehouse. Much like his effort to protect Ohio's groundwater and Lake Erie, DeWine understands some problems can't be fixed before the next election.About 20% of Ohioans live in areas with a shortage of mental health professionals, while demand for behavioral health services grew by 353% between 2013 and 2019, according to a state fact sheet.
Waitlists for care grew substantially in 2021 and almost 90% of behavioral health agencies had difficulty retaining staff, according to a 2021 report by the Ohio Council.DeWine's push comes as Summa Health this month opens its new Juve Family Behavioral Health Center in Akron, a 64-bed inpatient facility that replaces the aging St. Thomas Hospital, which had more beds but far fewer private rooms.The $84 million facility was built specifically for behavioral health care with Summa leaders describing the great attention paid to privacy and patient comfort. Among the many features are a geriatric behavioral health unit, a Traumatic Stress Center and outpatient mental health services such as outpatient psychiatry.
Addiction services also will be available in the new tower and main hospital.Building more physical capacity for mental health services and developing more professionals to help people are key priorities in DeWine's original plan, including allocating millions for paid internships, scholarships, licensing and other efforts to promote the behavioral workforce. Unfortunately, some of those efforts have stalled.Using federal pandemic funds, Ohio also has supported new programs such as OhioRISE designed to give children on Medicaid with severe behavioral needs proper coverage and care. Ohio also has funded mental health courts to resolve some cases without criminal convictions, crisis intervention training for first responders and much more.Illegal drug abuse and overdose deaths also reman a critical concern, with drug pushers constantly reinventing their products to become even more addictive and deadly.
While addiction is a medical disease, research shows a person's mental health can impact the decision to take drugs in the first place.According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, drug abuse saw a spike to 5.9% in 2019 and 2020 after sticking below 3% for the past decade. More than 5,000 Ohioans died of drug overdoses in 2020 and 2021, with both years setting disturbing records.Clearly, DeWine's focus on improving Ohio's mental health is needed and critical to building long-term solutions benefiting everyone. We urge lawmakers to give his ideas full consideration and appropriate support.A new program launched today could save the life of someone you care about years from now.