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Mental-Health Advocates Cautiously Endorse State Reforms

The state has announced changes in the mental-health system, and advocates for the mentally ill are encouraged but waiting for results.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The state has announced changes in how it runs the mental health system. Advocates for the people served by the system say it is a good start, but they are not sure it will solve the problems they see.

One example is help for people trying to live in the community while coping with their problems.

Kristen Akland, 28, enjoys computers and finds it easy to work with photos and design Web sites. Living on her own is another matter, however.

Kristin’s mother, Ann Akland, said her daughter has schizoaffective disorder. Diagnosed when she was 17, Kristen hears voices, can become paranoid, has mood swings and is often depressed, her mother said.

“Right now, Kristen has a couple of people come out, usually twice a week,” Ann Akland said.

Ann, a former board member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness – Wake County says Kristen is trying to live independently with the help of community-support services from the state.

“The plan sounds really good when you talk about being able to have people have services they need to stay in the community,” Ann Akland said. She added, however, “The execution is abysmal. It is failing.”

The overhaul that Health and Human Services Secretary Dempsey Benton announced Thursday includes even how the state defines community support services.

The department said many changes will go in effect March 1. New qualifications for care providers will be effective July 1.

As part of the transformation plan, Benton will have day-to-day direction of all 14 of the state's public mental-health facilities. He will have a work group analyze the state's crisis-service system and the state's overall strategy for inpatient services.

Another aspect of the plan keeps Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh open for 60 additional days beyond the closing that had been slated for February.

"Secretary Benton has the right ideas. I think he cares." Ann Akland said. She and others need to see change happen, though.



Bruce Mildwurf, Reporter
Tom Normanly, Photographer
Ron Gallagher, Web Editor

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