September 7, 2006
Yesterday, the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority
(Trust) approved a motion which included the following:
- Fiscal Year 2007 (ending June 30, 2007)
- $120,000 in Trust Funds for continued development work.
- Fiscal Year 2008 (ending June 30, 2008)
- $160,000 in Trust Funds.
- Recommendation that $220,000 in State of Alaska General Fund/Mental Health
(GF/MH) be appropriated for Soteria-Alaska operations.
- Fiscal Year 2009 (ending June 30, 2009)
- $160,000 in Trust Funds.
- I don't think they actually passed a motion regarding FY 2009 GF/MH, but the
plan as I understand it is if the State does appropriate the $220,000 in FY
2008, that it would go up to $470,000 in FY 2009
There are a
couple of things about this that should be explained.
First, the Trust is
a unique entity, which was created out of a dozen year litigation over the State
of Alaska's misappropriation of a One Million Acre federal land trust grant for
Alaska's mental health program. I was one of the main players in this
litigation as an attorney on the plaintiffs' side. Under the settlement of
this litigation, the Trust has money which it can spend totally on its own,
without any necessity of a legislative appropriation, and it also makes formal
recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature regarding General Fund
expenditures on Alaska's mental health program.
is termed General Fund/Mental Health, or "GF/MH." Under the settlement,
the Governor and the Legislature are required to explain any deviations from the
Trust's recommendations, but I can't say that specific requirement of the
settlement has worked out to be particularly meaningful.
- (Jeff Jessee, the Executive Director of the Trust, is on this list and if he
wants to weigh in on this (or anything else), he can do that. Speaking of
which, anyone who receives this should be able to post to this list by e-mailing
Other parts of the settlement
have worked out amazingly well. In the dozen years since the
settlement, the Trust has become very influential. In the first eight
years it was able to obtain significant GF/MH increases. The current
administration, however, has been unwilling to accept much in the way of
additional GF/MH expenditures and I believe has reduced a fair amount of general
fund mental health spending. The incumbent was soundly trounced in last
month's primary election and we know we will not be dealing with the current
lame duck administration for the next budget cycle.
Second, it is
felt that in order for Soteria-Alaska to be sustainable, it has to be part of
the state funded mental health system (ie., GF/MH) just as is the state
hospital. The Trust staff, and especially its Executive Director, Jeff
Jessee, feel it would be unwise for the Trust to put the money up to open
Soteria-Alaska without the State agreeing to continue it as part of the its
mental health program. It is hard to argue with that. There
are other possible approaches, especially in light of Myers v. Alaska
, which held the State can not involuntarily drug
someone if there is a less intrusive alternative (
), but having
the State include Soteria-Alaska in its regular mental health budget is far
preferable to any other approaches I know of.
Jeff also feels we really
only have one chance with Soteria-Alaska, need to get it right and if that takes
some time, we need to take that time. As much as I chafe at how long it is
taking, it is also pretty hard to argue with that. Well, I could argue
with it, but I think it is a valid and sensible way to look at it, even if it is
not the only valid and sensible way to look at it.
As a result of
all of this, I think the absolutely earliest Soteria-Alaska could open would be
January or February, 2008, and that is almost certainly too
So that is where things are at. We have made tremendous
progress with the Trust firmly and officially committed to getting
Soteria-Alaska up and running. This has been made possible by the
tremendous work of Susan Musante, our Project Manager, Aron Wolf and Alma Menn,
as well as Jeff, Nancy Burke and Bill Hermann at the Trust. There
have also been other supporters and people who have helped, especially certain
members of the Trust Authority, including former Trustee Nelson Page, but I
can't mention them all here. We still have a lot of work to do, most
notably in getting the Legislature to recognize it must financially support this
program, but for the first time I think I can say we are more likely than not to
be able to get Soteria-Alaska going.
Finally, one of the things Jeff
wants to do is take people to visit other similar programs and I would
appreciate anyone with ideas of such places in the US e-mailing them to
me. We know of a couple in Europe, but I don't think taking people to
Europe is politically feasible. I don't know of any truly comparable
program in the US, but maybe some of you do.
406 G Street, Suite
Anchorage, Alaska 99501