The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services has seized temporary control of Cardinal Innovations, the managed care organization that administers mental health Medicaid funds for 20 counties, including Mecklenburg. Those of us who work in human services wonder how this will affect the provision of services. And whether anyone actually cares.
It’s easy to put the individuals served by Cardinal out of our minds. It’s uncomfortable to sit and be present with their hardships. The people who may be sleeping outside in tents, under bridges, and in shelters. The older gentleman experiencing psychosis so severe that he won’t accept help. The middle-aged woman lying to her family about her substance use, unprepared to take steps to address her addiction. The young man battling withdrawal symptoms alone because there are no detox beds available. The self-harming teenager with a significant trauma and abuse history who is awaiting placement at yet another psychiatric facility because no one knows how to address her behaviors at home.
For centuries we’ve been putting “crazy” and “disabled” people out of sight and out of mind, resigning them to lives of poverty in institutions or on the streets. So although this episode with Cardinal may lead to reform, it likely won’t do much to address the heart of the issue: a lack of concern for our most vulnerable community members.
They’re our parents, siblings, children and friends. They’re our fellow human beings. But if the past is any indication, being human is not reason enough to matter. Many Charlotteans will remember that before Cardinal Innovations, Mecklenburg spent $3 million to administer Medicaid funds itself through MeckLINK, which dissolved in 2013 after audits uncovered mismanaged finances and technological issues. The saga only continues.
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We are unlikely to change the minds of top administrators who may stand to benefit, but we can advocate for public funds to be spent differently. The money spent on exorbitant compensation could have helped folks transition out of chronic homelessness or helped build affordable housing units. The money could have been spent on improving the quality of and access to mental health and substance use services. Or it could have supported the empowerment of individuals with disabilities to live dignified, self-directed lives.
As Helen Keller wrote, “Until the great mass of people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility of each other’s welfare, social justice can never be attained.”
It’s high time we collectively took on the responsibility of caring through action, both for the people we love and for those we don’t know. This means educating ourselves on key issues and writing our legislators about our dissatisfaction. Most of all, it means spending time with people who are suffering and showering them with all the love we can muster. Because we all benefit when those most at risk are given equal opportunity to thrive.
Emily Lupsor is a clinical social worker and mental health advocate who lives in Charlotte. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please speak with someone by contacting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.