Kennedy: Foulkes is the mental health leader RI needs | Opinion

Editor’s Note: With some slots open this spring and summer, we’re asking supporters of the various governorship candidates to give their view on the nominees.

If you’ve watched one of her interviews or seen her ads on TV, you probably already know that Helena Bonanno Foulkes is running in the Democratic gubernatorial primary to make Rhode Island more expensive, invest $1 billion in its public schools, and create a green economy where all Rhode Islanders have a chance. Engage in great jobs. Her remarkable experience as a CEO at CVS, where she has managed 200,000 employees and $80 billion in sales, along with her track record of getting big things done, like driving CVS to its decision to hold itself accountable to its mission as a healthcare company and stop selling tobacco, is testament to her strength as a leader. This should inspire confidence in all Rhode Islanders that she is up to the task.

What you may not be aware of is Helena’s deep understanding of all aspects of the healthcare industry and her unwavering commitment to meeting the mental health needs of Rhode Islanders. While the state has made significant progress under Governor Raimundo, there is no doubt that mental health support has been seriously underfunded and underresourced for decades. Despite the hard work of advocates and diligent staff at federally qualified health centers like Thundermist, Rhode Islanders who struggle with mental health and/or substance abuse challenges often find themselves living on the streets, incarcerated, or dying decades too soon. . Inequalities in access to mental health care persist not only in Rhode Island but across the country, and they existed long before the outbreak of COVID-19. But there is no doubt that the pandemic has pushed a struggling regime to the brink of disaster.

Rhode Island is currently facing an unprecedented mental health crisis. Providing sympathetic and thoughtful leadership to deal with it should be a priority for the next governor. Last month, Bradley Hospital, Hasbro Children’s Hospital, the Rhode Island chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Rhode Island Board of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry declared an emergency for the first time ever due to the state’s inability to provide timely mental health care services for children and teens. Last year, more Rhode Islanders died of an accidental overdose than in any other year on record. Stories of waiting hours in emergency rooms and treatment facilities at full capacity are alarmingly common.

Foulkes is ready to lead Rhode Island through this crisis on day one. Crucially she knows that mental health cannot be addressed in a vacuum, but that it must be a major factor in all policy decisions, from housing to education to workforce training. She understands the urgency of this work and has already called for historic investments in school psychologists and counselors that will ensure that every public school in the state has the resources to support its students in an appropriate proportion. It is committed to bridging the gaps in access to mental health and addiction care, and through its job training initiatives, will create a strong pool of providers in every community so that Rhode Islanders can get the care they need close to home.

Nearly 60 years ago, President Kennedy said that people with mental illness and developmental delays have become “strangers to our emotions,” and called on leaders to end neglect. More than half a century later, the chronic neglect of people with mental health and substance use disorders remains a serious public health problem, a social justice issue, and an economic issue. Rhode Island needs a leader with compassion, understanding, and determination to face these challenges head-on. Helena Foulkes will get the job done.

Former United States Representative (D-RI) Patrick J. Kennedy is the lead author of the Mental Health and Addiction Equality Act. He is a former member of the President’s Committee on Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.