Mental health funding sought for seniors

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Boston (WWLP) – State funding for elderly mental health programs has been cut by hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years, which advocates have linked to devastating consequences for Massachusetts’ seniors.  Lawyers, teachers and social workers are seeking to restore funding, which they say will benefit the state in the long run.

Mental health advocates say untreated mental issues can lead to emotional and financial instability, which in turn could lead to homelessness and the need for costly emergency shelters.  In some cases, they say it can lead to elderly suicide.

“When people come to us they’re in crisis.  They’ve either lost or are at risk of losing their benefits or their health coverage or their housing or all of those things,” said Betsey Crimmins, an attorney at the Greater Boston Legal Services.

Mental health advocates are seeking to restore $350,000 dollars in metal health services for the elderly. They testified before the state Legislature’s Mental Health and Substance Abused Committee on a need for money that in the past funded at-home counseling for senior patients and training for health care workers.

“If homes visits around mental health could be offered, we believe that it would save money in the long run,” said Kathy Kuhn, the director of workforce development at the Center for Aging & Disability Education & Research at Boston University of Social Work.

But in 2007, that funding was cut from the state budget. Advocates say there has been a decline in the quality of mental health services since then, leading many seniors to go untreated and undiagnosed for serious mental health conditions.

Governor Deval Patrick will deliver his state of the Commonwealth address Tuesday and on Wednesday he’ll release his budget – where stakeholders will get a better look at what his funding priorities for the year will be.

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