Local Politics

Easley Talks About Controversial Mental Health Reform

Posted March 10, 2008

— Gov. Mike Easley on Monday defended throwing away a recent handwritten note to him from his former chief of mental health issues that describes why she did not want to talk publicly about the strained system.

"I get it. I read it. I throw it away," he said. "Most documents are not public records. Most written material I receive, I read and discard. I take it in. I got it and I move on."

Easley claims both he and former Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Carmen Hooker Odom opposed the 2001 mental health reform bill that decentralized the mental-health system to create a more cost-efficient one that supporters said would serve more patients at a lower cost and provide more choices in services.

The system has been struggling with problems and claims of abuse, however, and the reforms have been slow to bring change.

Some observers charge the governor destroyed a public document when he threw away Hooker Odom's note.

Easley said she was focused on making the law work and that he only signed the measure because it had overwhelming support among state lawmakers.

Odom left the Easley administration last year and hasn't talked publicly about the deteriorating system.

Last week, Easley outlined three areas of immediate reform for which he said he will push in the General Assembly's short session later in the spring. Those changes include more power to him and DHHS to manage the sweeping changes mandated in 2001.

Easley said the lack of authority led to mismanagement that cost the state at least $400 million. And that bothers him most.

"Every dollar wasted is another dollar a needy person doesn't get," Easley said. This is not just a numbers game. This is pain and anguish occurring in someone's life that shouldn't (happen) because the money was wasted."

Executive authority is at the top of his legislative list. but he also wants more accountability from mental health centers and the ability work more directly with local communities.

But with 10 months left in office, is it a realistic goal?

"I think you can make some immediate progress, but it's the long term where most of this would occur. Ten months is a pretty long time."

While he waits for the short session, Easley has taken heat for not dealing with this problem more publicly and for not talking with reporters sooner.

He concedes recent media reports may help him get the changes he wants – changes state lawmakers did not pass last session.


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  • jsanders Mar 11, 2008

    The governor's justifications on this just aren't credible: http://www.carolinajournal.com/jhdailyjournal/display_jhdailyjournal.html?id=4644

  • lilwil Mar 11, 2008

    Trust me, that $400 million wasn't thrown away...it went toward their salaries and perks, probably an expense account, a private car to drive, etc.

  • ohmygosh Mar 11, 2008

    What bothers him most is the $400 million thrown away.

    What about the destroyed lives as a result of the inability to get care? I guess they don't matter.

  • WHEEL Mar 11, 2008

    It's never your fault is it Mike. From the mental health system, the Highway Patrol, the DMV, the DOT, the Prossecutors Office, the State Ports Authority, the Gas Tax, and on and on you sound like a four year old claiming "IT'S NOT MY FAULT". Suck it up and take responsibility for once.

  • Zelda Mar 11, 2008

    The idea that private organizations could provide better and cheaper services than the public organizations that had been providing services for decades was completely wrongheaded. The public organizations were never funded as well as they should have been and were generally understaffed. Easley allowed Carmen Hooker Odom to savage the system whether he accepts responsibility for that or not. Now she's gone and NC will be picking up the pieces for a long time.

  • nic Mar 11, 2008

    Regardless if he opposed the reform or not he ultimately signed it into law and needs to take responsibility. His administration screwed up this reform and he needs to deal with it and fix it. First and foremost he needs to leave Dix open until there are more community services in place.

  • PaulRevere Mar 11, 2008

    Wow...Easley speaks! That's news itself! He will not be missed.

  • Vincenzo R. Abacus Mar 11, 2008

    The only ones who are better off for this "reform" are the bottom feeders charging the state $61/hr so someone with little training and a high school degree can take clients to the mall. Is this the future of government? Privatization no matter how poor the services or how high the cost to the taxpayers?

  • whatelseisnew Mar 11, 2008

    Sure he throws it away. He does not want written materials that help to prove what a lousy governor he has been. From the roads to the school system, mental health, his policies that helped attract thousands and thousands of illegals, his give aways to business, his thefts of millions and millions of highway trust funds this governor has been an absolute disaster.