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DHH Secretary Levine Sends Letter to U.S. Health Secretary Underscoring Need for BP Funds for Mental Health Care, After BP Denied First Request

BATON ROUGE (July 9, 2010) - Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Alan Levine wrote to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius underscoring the need for BP funds for mental health care, after BP denied the state's first request for funds.

The full text of the letter is below:


Dear Secretary Sebelius,

Louisiana is facing an unprecedented behavioral health crisis as our families struggle with the devastating effects of the BP disaster on our coast. As you know, these same families have already endured multiple natural disasters and have been forced to rebuild their lives, in some cases from nothing, to reclaim their livelihoods and their very identity. Now, they face the continued uncertainty as this catastrophic technological disaster continues to wreak havoc in our communities.

We understand you are visiting our state tomorrow, and we encourage you to make these emerging mental health concerns a top priority of your visit. We need you, as the nation's top health official, to engage directly in this emerging crisis and keep our families' plight in focus long after the leak is stopped. Their struggles will not end when the well is capped.

Studies conducted after the Exxon Valdez spill definitively showed the long-lasting psychological impact of this kind of technological disaster, particularly on those who rely on the ecosystem for their livelihoods as do so many coastal Louisiana families. In its paper, "Coping With Technological Disasters: A User Friendly Guidebook," the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council writes, "Results of Exxon Valdez oil spill studies indicate that mental health impacts still persist 10 years post-spill. These impacts include disruption of family structure and unity, family violence, depression, alcoholism, drug abuse and psychological impairment." This was reaffirmed at the recent meeting of the Institute of Medicine in New Orleans, at which mental health concerns emerged as the priority health issue of this disaster.

Our Louisiana Spirit crisis counseling teams have already engaged and counseled more than 2,000 individuals and are reporting increases in anxiety, depression, stress, grief, excessive and earlier drinking and suicide ideation. Community-based organizations report similar findings. We know that, left untreated, these symptoms can quickly develop into behavioral health problems that lead to the breakdown of the familial structures, domestic violence, abuse and neglect.

We also know that Louisianians are suffering uniquely from the compounding effects of the disasters they have faced. Those disasters have taught us much about how insidious the effect of parental stress, anger, anxiety, substance abuse and mental illness are on children. Following Hurricane Katrina, an Urban Institute Paper found that "if parents remain in limbo themselves, and particularly if sadness, stress, or depression continues to color their interactions with their children, the risks of derailing children's development deepen."

Time is simply not a luxury our families have. Still, we wait. More than a month ago, on May 28, we asked British Petroleum to fund mental health services to the affected region. Again, on June 28, we reiterated this request for $10 million in a letter to BP's COO, Doug Suttles. As of writing this, I have not heard one word, not even a courtesy call acknowledging receipt of our request, from BP.

The requested $10 million would support six months of continued outreach activities of the Louisiana Spirit program and provide therapeutic and psychiatric services through our locally-governed human services districts and community-based organizations. We also have expressed our full support of similar requests by community groups who are providing mental health screenings, education, crisis management and counseling services in the affected communities. The speed with which we can fully implement these services will greatly affect the longer-term behavioral health needs and reduce the long-term costs of what is certain to be an ongoing challenge.

Please speak out on this issue. We need your advocacy.


Sincerely,
Alan Levine

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