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The sudden conservative concern for persons with mental illness

One of the most frustrating parts of the General Assembly’s ongoing move to renege on the Dix Park deal has been the out-of-the-blue concern that has materialized from conservatives for persons with mental illness. After working for years to underfund and privatize essential services (often, admittedly, in tandem with shortsighted Democrats), all of a sudden, these folks are desperate to sell off Dix for condos to get money to fund services for persons in need.

Conservative State Rep. Jim Fulghum of Raleigh wrote a letter to Raleigh’s News & Observer over the weekend [1], however, protesting that he was no Johnny-come-lately to the cause of helping people with mental illness and that he both supported the Dix park and somehow restructuring the lease to help persons with mental illness. Let’s hope he’s sincere.

The problem, of course, is that even sincerity of this kind isn’t gonna’ solve the state’s mental health challenge. As veteran lobbyist Paula Wolf noted in a “letter” to Fulghum on her “Paulatics” blog yesterday [2], there is a long and sordid history on this subject in North Carolina — a history that can’t be healed by selling off Dix or “restructuring” the lease. Indeed, given our embarrassing history with the “Education Lottery,” you can almost count on the fact that any new money generated would just be used to supplant other funds that would then be re-programmed.

As Paula correctly noted in her letter:

“In my view, the sudden concern for mental health is, indeed, a smokescreen for the constant desire to delegitimate legal actions taken by former Gov. Bev Perdue. As you heard last week, most residents of Wake County refuse to be played. I hope you will, too.”

The bottom line: It’s great that some people in power are talking about the needs of the North Carolinians Dix Hospital once served. Let’s hope they keep it up.  But the notion that anything approaching the real needs in this area can be met merely by selling off Dix or restructuring the lease is just snake oil.  Only a renewed commitment of significant amounts of public, general fund dollars are going to make the kind of difference that people with mental illness, developmental disabilities and substance abuse problems deserve.