Magazine article Behavioral Healthcare Executive

Change Is Coming! We Must Ensure Our Agenda Is on Lawmaker's Radars

Magazine article Behavioral Healthcare Executive

Change Is Coming! We Must Ensure Our Agenda Is on Lawmaker's Radars

Article excerpt

During the fall presidential campaign, it was very hard for many of us to reconcile concern with a rapidly failing economy and concern with Gov. Sarah Palin's clothes. How dare the national media consider these two stories with the same intensity and seriousness! Now that the campaign is a fading memory, we need to regain our perspective, take stock, and set our future course into the uncharted waters of the Obama administration and a new Congress.

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The election of Barack Obama and Joe Biden signals that our national government will be concerned about middle-class, working-class, and poor people during the next four years, and that it will have empathy for the very poor, the downtrodden, and those who are homeless. Biden is from a traditional working-class family; Obama's mother was a single parent who hovered near poverty for years.

The strengthened Democratic majorities in both the Senate and the House suggest that the relationship between the administration and Congress will be vastly different than during the troubled waning years of the Bush administration. Clearly, many more opportunities will exist to build and move a joint national agenda. We need to ensure that mental and substance use health and care are part of that agenda.

Concern about economy, with a rapidly spreading recession and the potential for a 1929-style depression, will be riveting to both the Obama administration and Congress. However, we must remember that Franklin. D. Roosevelt created his most innovative programs during the depths of the Great Depression. These programs--Social Security, employer-based health insurance coverage, and community general hospitals, among others--endure today, more than 75 years later.

Promoting national health reform

We hope that the Obama administration will take on national health reform, involving universal coverage, system reform, and financing reform. However, if this happens, we will need to develop "new arguments" about health. For starters, we must ask how national health reform can help us rebuild the American economy. How would have FDR approached this issue? To my knowledge, no one has yet asked this question. We must.

Taking the same point of view, we must ask what the mental health and substance use care fields can contribute to the recovery of our economy. I believe we already know the answer. Mental and substance use conditions sap economic performance at the personal and community levels. Good care improves worker performance. Hence, the issue for us becomes how to link national health reform with good care to improve our economy's overall performance. This will not be an easy task, but neither will it be "mission impossible. …

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