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Please spare social services in cutbacks

Before everyone yawns or begins to nod off, let’s try these words one more time: We can least afford to sacrifice critical social services during a depressed or recessed economy.

It seems fitting to emphasize the long struggle to provide enlightened mental health care for little children and adolescents, even as we witness cutbacks in programs across the nation. Our recent news diet is replete with stories about fierce drug addiction, adultery in high places, families torn apart and a long list of greedy exploitation. As we digest sensational human failings, we find important information that almost escapes attention.

“Glens to close teen treatment facility” by Timothy R. Wolfrum appeared in the Herald on Friday, June 26, 2009. The Adolescent Recovery Center treats teenagers’ substance abuse and mental health problems. Due to budget cuts, Manatee Glens could not sustain the continuum of care offered for patients who most benefited from residential treatment.

I know we are all aware of the tough times during this economic downturn and the funding cutbacks at every level. But we must consider the economic impact that reduction in services will engender. This may be a small program that can be spared for a “greater good,” but we cannot dismiss the lost benefits to families, community, schools and the local workforce. Just this one concept of continuum of care is an example of taking a great step forward followed by a giant leap backward.

Above all, is this the harbinger of things to come?

Over the last 30 or so years, I have witnessed the struggle to change attitudes and reduce the stigma on all things labeled “mental.” The people of Manatee County can be proud of the specialized hospital and the mental health care provided by Manatee Glens, a nonprofit corporation. The Glens’ outreach and sharing is our connection to almost every sector of human service both locally and regionally: education, law enforcement, medicine, child care, aging, homelessness, training and a vital volunteer effort. Having its own hospital makes Manatee Glens unique among Florida’s six mental health centers.

As this economic downturn threatens to decimate social services, our leadership at every level needs to be reminded of the costly investment in time, tears and sweat equity given by thousands of people over the years to develop such good works. It’s not a bottomless pit of human need as some may believe, but a reservoir of human concern that lies in our hands.

Pat Glass, retired county commissioner, writes biweekly for the Herald.

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