Hawaii’s people suffer, while legislators fail to pass meaningful bills

Hawaii’s people suffer, while legislators fail to pass meaningful bills

Originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, May 12, 2019

Zahava Zaidoff

There is a lot of talk from elected officials, organizations and individuals about mental health and substance abuse issues. Here is the real question, though: Is anyone actually looking for solutions or are they just spouting talking points?

If the legislators and elected officials in the state of Hawaii were actually seeking solutions, what bills would they have passed? What appropriations would have been made? What issues would they champion?

You want to know what people with mental illness and their families need? A voice. That’s what we need.

Let’s start with remote video conferencing. How can one claim to care about the rights of the disabled community, including those with mental health diagnoses, but not allow them to participate equally in the process? Someone with anxiety about flying can’t testify on bills face to face or voice to voice. Was this bill passed? Nope.

There are no residential treatment facilities that accept Med-QUEST for women or youth in Hawaii County. There are no residential treatment facilities that accept Med-QUEST for men, women or youth in Kauai County. If someone under age 18 needs help and has Med-QUEST, he or she needs to fly to Oahu; 67% percent of addicts and alcoholics have suffered childhood trauma. Several bills were introduced; did any of them pass? Nope.

There is a shortage of psychiatrists, therapists and programs across the state that accept Med-QUEST. Why? Because the reimbursement rate is peanuts and no one can survive on it. Did we pass a bill incentivizing professionals to accept this insurance and help people? Nope.

Parents can’t take time off from work to be with their children who need help, or to take care of themselves. Why? Because we have no guaranteed paid family leave in Hawaii. Did we pass that bill? Nope.

Feeling productive and respected builds self-esteem. Being paid a living wage would go a long way to helping empower people who feel like they are falling through the cracks. Did we pass a living wage this year? Nope.

Homelessness is a huge issue, and we talk about mental illness almost synonymously with homelessness. Do we have help available on all the islands? Nope.

Women experiencing domestic violence who have turned to drugs to numb their pain, need help. Domestic violence shelters won’t accept women who are addicted to drugs. So where do they go? This session a bill passed to include strangulation as part of domestic violence. That’s great, but did any bills pass to create and appropriate funding to programs that treat trauma, addiction and mental illness? Nope.

People are dying. Real people are really dying.

Talk is great. Except that it isn’t; it’s cheap.

I am quite literally sick and tired of hearing people talk about how much they want to do to help eradicate stigma and get help for those living with mental health challenges who need it. If our legislators wanted to do something about it, they would have.

So I implore you — all of you who are reading this, to get active. Get loud. Do something. Email your legislators, volunteer for a group or nonprofit that champions a cause you believe in. Engage. Register to vote and then vote. This would be easier if the Legislature had passed automatic voter registration (AVR), but it didn’t.

The time to remain silent is over. This is not on our legislators, it is on us. We keep voting for the same people, time and time again. Let’s vote for some real change in 2020, shall we?

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