DeKalb mental health programs lack funds

By Lisa Daigle

A consensus among DeKalb mental health professionals indicates that funding for mental health programs is “woefully inadequate.”

Jerry Lane, administrator for the DeKalb County community mental health board, said while demand for mental health services has increased in DeKalb County, “funding has not kept pace with demand.”

“The trend nationwide for public funding in many areas has not kept up with demand or inflation,” Lane said.

With a lack of adequate funding, Lane said, mental health centers are forced to raise money through “Robin Hood funding” programs.

These not-for-profit organizations charge fees for their services to those who can pay, and put the money earned back into programs for those who cannot.

Lane added that a lack of adequate state funding has forced mental health centers to become more “business oriented,” and more aggressive in their fundraising efforts.

One area that has never had adequate funding Lane said, is respite care. In this area, paid professionals would go into homes where a handicapped person lived, and take care of that person for a weekend, allowing the family time to relax.

Lane said he has three goals concerning mental health care funding. He said he would like to “maintain an adequate level of services in the county,” make sure DeKalb gets its “fair share” of funding; and look into new funding initiatives.

For fiscal year 1989, Lane said the budget for the mental health board was $561,749. The board distributes funds to public mental health services in DeKalb County, and is responsible for monitoring those services.

Pam Wyseman, director of Safe Passage, an area domestic violence center, said the center is “struggling to keep our doors open.”

With a lack of adequate funding, Wyseman said it is “difficult for the program to attract and retain staff.” High staff turn-over rates add to expenses, Wyseman said.

Wyseman said Safe Passage “sees over 100 women and children a month.” She estimated that 2,000 women will be battered this year in DeKalb.

“It’s the most common and most underreported of all crimes,” Wyseman said.

Wyseman estimates the shelter sees one to five percent of all the women abused in DeKalb.

Carol Witkowski, director of the Epilepsy Association, said the association “can barely keep up with what we have.” The association is staffed by two part-time workers, herself and a receptionist.

Witkowski said she would like to see the staff eventually increase to three full-time caseworkers. She also said she wants to start a week-long camp for children with epilepsy in DeKalb, but planning is in its primitive stages.

Public education of what epilepsy is and its causes is also something Witkoski wants to explore. She said there are “a lot of stigmas attached” to the disease.