Protesters rip Baker cuts to recovery services

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STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, APRIL 1, 2015…..Users of mental health recovery services and their advocates on Wednesday charged that deep spending cuts proposed by the Baker administration would damage regional centers that in 2014 helped 10,000 people avoid hospitalizations, stay out of legal trouble or work through thoughts of suicide.

About 150 people rallied outside the State House, chanting “restore full funding” and touting the benefits of “recovery learning community” services available to individuals who have experienced psychiatric diagnosis, trauma, and addiction and who may have refused conventional mental health services or not sought help at all.

According to Ruthie Poole, director of advocacy at the Roxbury-based Transformation Center, Gov. Charlie Baker’s fiscal 2016 budget proposal includes $1.7 million for recovery learning communities (RLCs), down from $3.5 million in fiscal year 2015. The Department of Mental Health has not explained the cut to them, Poole said.

“It guts us,” she said.

Anne Whitman, chair of Metro Boston and Southeast RLCs, said the effects of her bipolar disorder were “greatly reduced” after she joined the community.

“What was important to me was the peer support,” she said. “We help people get jobs, run peer support groups, help with GED [General Educational Development], housing.”

In a statement, Chuck O’Leary of Melrose said the Metro Boston RLC served him three days a week “during the worst depression of my life.” He said being with others recovering from mental health conditions helped him the most. “I felt very accepted, very welcomed and not judged,” O’Leary said.

“We support each other through support groups, we socialize with each other and we do get better,” said Justin Brown, director of the Northeast Recovery Learning Community, which serves 52 communities, including Lowell, Malden and Newburyport. “Recovery is real.”

According to the Baker administration, funding for the line item that supports RLCs and “club houses,” which provide skills and employment services, increases by 5.1 percent in the governor’s proposed fiscal 2016 budget. Baker administration officials noted the proposal also increases Department of Mental Health funding by 1.7 percent.

“The Baker administration’s FY16 budget increases funding for priorities in mental health including adult mental health services, 24/7 crisis services, inpatient care and community support services like Clubhouses that help this population train for and get jobs,” said Rhonda Mann, a spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

But Brenda Vezina, director of the Central Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community, said they are getting hit with a cut, which will “decimate” services. “We will have to close our doors,” she said.

People use the centers to avoid costly hospitalizations. “We are a piece of the Department of Mental Health infrastructure,” Vezina said.

Copyright 2015 State House News Service

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