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Georgia expert urges NC to build a better mental health system

“Keep pushing for fundamental reform” — that’s the message that was delivered this afternoon to a a gathering of 75 people in downtown Raleigh by mental health policy expert Joshua Norris, the Director of Legal Advocacy for The Georgia Advocacy Office.

Norris was in town to headline an NC Policy Watch Crucial Conversation at Marbles Kids Museum entitled “No more excuses: Building a lawful, 21st Century system for serving  people with mental illness.”

According to the Atlanta attorney, now is no time to stop with reform merely because budgets are tight and powerful lobby groups with an interest in preserving the current system  of serving people with mental illness are pushing back.

Norris described the current system as being similar to an obsolete, mid-20th Century automobile — perhaps okay for its own time, but clearly dangerous and inadequate in 2011.

Vicki Smith, Executive Director of Disability Rights North Carolina, echoed many of Norris’ comments and responded directly to the questions raised by some current service providers that a movement to depopulate adult care homes (where thousands of people with mental illness are currently housed) will cause harm and increase homelessness.

Smith pointed out that moving away from North Carolina’s current system of employing institutional facilities and toward a system of real, community-based service in which those served get a real voice and choices in the process does not have to happen overnight. Clearly, she said, the state needs to thoroughly and thoughtfully plan the transition.

But, like, Norris, Smith emphasized that it was critical to get moving. She noted that recent action by the U.S. Department of Justice calling North Carolina’s current system into question should be viewed as an opportunity to get things done correctly, rather than as a threat.

A video of today’s luncheon will be available shortly at the NC Policy Watch video page.

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