Rhode Island is facing a mental health crisis and the General Assembly needs to act, say workers“There should be no difference between how we rose to meet the demands for the physical health of people and how we rise to meet the needs of their mental health.”
Published on June 6, 2022
By Steve Ahlquist
Frontline staff at Butler Hospital on Blackstone Blvd in Providence hit picketed on Friday to call for urgent intervention in what Rhode Island healthcare officials have deemed a “mental health state of emergency.” They are calling on the General Assembly to invest funding from the American Rescue Act Fund to expand Butler’s capacity to treat the growing number of individuals who need help.
“Butler Hospital is the premier mental health facility in the region, providing a wide array of both inpatient and outpatient mental, behavioral health and substance abuse services to adolescent, adult and geriatric populations that can necessitate weeks of in-patient stays,” said workers via their union, SEIU 1199NE. “But because of short staffing, recently acknowledged chronic underfunding and a pandemic-related spike in demand, Butler hospital is experiencing a severe capacity crisis.”
The pandemic has had profound and far-reaching effects on Americans’ mental health. Depression among adults in the United States tripled in early 2020 — jumping from 8.5% before the pandemic to a staggering 27.8%. And findings indicate this trend is actually worsening, affecting one in every three American adults. Mental health challenges are impacting children too; with the proportion of mental health-related visits for children aged 5 to 11 and age 12 to 17 increased approximately 24% and 31% from 2019 to 2020. Similarly, substance abuse and overdose deaths are also spiking; more Rhode Islanders died of accidental drug overdoses in 2021 than any other year on record according to the Rhode Island Department of Health. Short staffing and lack of available beds has led to long wait times and delayed services.
Another compounding issue related to short staffing is lack of training.
To address this mental health capacity crisis, Butler caregivers are demanding lawmakers use available ARPA funds now. Rhode Island has received $1.1 billion COVID-relief funds which was appropriated one year ago and needs to be spent to address the crisis now. In addition, Rhode Island’s Office of Management and Budget predicts a nearly $1 billion budget surplus. To end the critical capacity crisis in Rhode Island’s mental health, the General Assembly must immediately invest state funding in staffing, training and expanding hospital capacity.
Butler Hospital employs approximately 900 employees, 650 of whom are represented by SEIU 1199NE.
“We reminded elected officials that when we were in a state of emergency in regards to our physical health, with Covid-19, we had not one, not two, but three times that we erected field hospitals and made sure that every patient that needed care was able to get that care. There should be no difference between how we rose to meet the demands for the physical health of people and how we rise to meet the needs of their mental health.”
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