Group pushes fix for Interior mental health system

FAIRBANKS — Social-service organizations in Alaska’s interior are banding together to push for an overhaul of the region’s patchwork mental-health system, which some say is broken.

Members of the Community Action Planning group, a collection of about two dozen local nonprofit organizations, have scheduled a community forum next month to address the issue.

“The forum, we hope, is lots of people and lots of loud voices talking about what’s missing and how we need to go forward,” said Anna Nelson, executive director of the Interior AIDS Association and chairwoman of the Community Action Planning group.

Mental health advocates maintain that significant gaps in the local care system have emerged since the September bankruptcy and closure of the Fairbanks Community Behavioral Health Center, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Tuesday. The Fairbanks Community Mental Health Service, which stepped into that void, is offering only services that generate revenue.

The community forum is scheduled to take place at 6 p.m. Dec. 11. The meeting is set to be held at the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly chambers.

Some offerings from the past, such as a daytime drop-in center and vocational programs, have vanished. Also compounded by the closure of the behavioral health center are other issues, including a growing scarcity of local housing for clients.

“People are just home all day, when before they had a place to go,” said Jeannette Grasto, president of NAMI of Fairbanks, a mental health advocacy group. “I think this is getting to the point as a community where we need to do something.”

Grasto said that with some services on the decline, clients are being forced to move elsewhere. In a letter to the Alaska Division of Behavioral Health last week, she described the local system as “broken” and in need of repair.

“It’s a tragedy,” Grasto said. “We’re sending them to Anchorage, and they don’t come back.”

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