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.  

The latter 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 Psychiatric Institute, 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 optimistic.

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.

Jim Gottstein, President
Soteria-Alaska, Inc.
406 G Street, Suite 206
Anchorage, Alaska  99501
(907) 274-7686
(fax) 274-9493