GUAM MENTAL HEALTH FACES FEDERAL TAKEOVER

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By Katie Worth

HAGATNA, GUAM (Pacific Daily News, Aug. 9) – Gov. Felix Camacho said he will call the Legislature into another emergency session to deal with the crisis facing its mental health department.

He threw barbs at the Legislature for not dealing with the problem in session last week and said he will force them to deal with it by calling another session. He did not specify precisely when he will call the session, but said his office is gathering all the information needed to present to lawmakers.

It'll have to be soon, because the clock is ticking: a federal judge may decide later this week whether to give the island more time to ramp up services for its mentally ill and mentally retarded residents, or whether to allow the federal government to take over the services at local taxpayers' expense.

As it is, many of Guam's mentally disabled residents are living on the streets or in the Department of Corrections because there is nowhere for them to live.

Last year, federal District Court Judge Consuelo Marshall gave the local Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse until Dec. 5, 2004, to shape up its act.

Since then, few changes have been made because funding has been scarce and neither the governor nor senators have taken action on the issue until recently.

Now, the judge is expected to decide if "receivership" is necessary. If so, federal officials will take over the local department and take as much money from local funding as necessary.

Last week, the governor called the Legislature into special session to consider a bill that would have given $5.9 million to the hospital and another $3 million to the mental health department.

Mental Health officials said the $3 million would buy medication, create two additional community housing programs for people with disabilities, fund a risk management program, and ensure that the current mental health programs are up to federal standards.

However, in session on Friday, lawmakers decided to exclude discussion of the mental health allocation and instead focus on the hospital's needs.

On Sunday, the governor declared an emergency and allocated $250,000 -- the maximum allowable under an emergency -- to the mental health department. That money will pay the off-island treatment of two mentally ill residents, who are currently being housed in the Department of Corrections because there is no special home for them on island and there has been no money to send them off island.

Yesterday, the governor lashed out at senators for taking mental health off their agenda in last week's session.

"I have to express my extreme disappointment in the Legislature. They claimed that addressing that issue was not 'germane.' Well, I'm not buying that," he said. "And what am I going to do about this? I'm going to call them into special session."

Sen. Eddie Calvo, R-Maite, said he will be happy to work with the governor to deal with the crisis. He said the Legislature excluded the provisions for mental health because they wanted to focus on the hospital's crises. He noted that others tried to add tax refunds and education funding to the bill last week, but it wasn't possible for all the issues to be considered at once.

The governor said the issue is one lawmakers cannot ignore.

"We need the money to do this and the only ones with the power to appropriate this money is the Legislature," he said. "This is an emergency. Too many people have been suffering for too long."

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com

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