Guest Blogger GottaLaff: "State Rep. Abramson Talks Jindal Priorities: Superdome Suite v. Mental Health Services"

Continuing my guest blogging feature, GottaLaff interviews Louisiana State Representative Neil Abramson about Republican Governor Bobby Jindal's spending priorities (originally posted at the The Political Carnival on November 9, 2009):

TPC EXCLUSIVE- State Rep. Abramson talks Jindal priorities: Superdome suite v. mental health services

Cutting services to those who desperately need them is becoming a habit over in JindalLand. He is now gutting all mental health care in Louisiana to fill the Medicare budget shortfall:
The state also plans to shift money from its mental health and public health programs into the Medicaid budget, where it can draw federal matching money. Levine said the agency has no plans for layoffs, but that workers in the three state-run psychiatric hospitals will be working fewer hours and that as a result the number of staffers per patient will decrease.
Sidebar: Jindal didn't show up at a big-- make that huge-- opening of a World War II Museum. Was he afraid that someone might connect the sore subject of mental health issues/veterans/the military, the tragedy at Ft. Hood and the need for proper psychological care? That would put him in a bit of a mental health pickle. A stretch? Maybe. Just a thought.
Gordon "Nick" Mueller, the museum's co-founder, president and chief executive officer, stressed the symbolic importance of the building, one of the biggest local construction projects since Hurricane Katrina laid waste to the New Orleans area in August 2005.

"The whole museum is in the American spirit," he said.
Bobby must have been too busy doing important stuff like turning down stimulus checks to attend. Oh wait.

But back to funding issues. Apparently, shoring up Medicaid with cuts to mental health facilities isn't as upsetting to Health and Hospitals Secretary Alan Levine as the dearth of alcohol and fancy schmancy shrimp and oysters in Ba-Ba-Ba-Bobby's own private Superdome suite:
While the New Orleans Saints storybook season has made them the hottest ticket in town, it also has driven up demand for the governor's private suite in the Superdome. [...]

"It's certainly an honor to be invited, but you don't get to spend a whole lot of time watching the game," said Health and Hospitals Secretary Alan Levine, who was on hand for last Monday's game against the Atlanta Falcons. Besides, Levine said, the governor's box doesn't come with the same amenities as the neighboring suites. "You walk by the other boxes and you see shrimp and you see oysters and you see alcohol, and you walk into the governor's box and there (are) literally just plastic cups next to the sink."
Maybe Levine could snatch a few dollars from what was formerly the mental health budget and buy his own gourmet nummies.

If you recall, I previously posted about the horrific mental health crisis in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, plus State Rep. Neil Abramson's exclusive comments here. A short excerpt from my interview with him:
The real problem, unfortunately, is this became an issue of politics: Who has the idea and whether or not we need to be problem solvers, not bean counters.

Jindal decided to save money, to consolidate two state mental hospitals into one. It became obvious to me that you can save all the money you want, but the facility HAD to be in New Orleans to address the needs of the patients.
Yesterday State Rep. Abramson sent me another exclusive e-mail:
Governor Jindal already closed the only public mental health hospital in New Orleans. Now, Alan Levine, Jindal's secretary of Department of Health & Hospital, proposes cutting more mental health services in order to save medicaid money.
Yes, that is the same Alan Levine who has public longings for shrimp. Moving on:
As a member of the legislature, we found a way to keep the mental health hospital open in New Orleans, working with the economic constraints of our balanced budget. Yet, Governor Jindal vetoed that funding and closed the hospital. Now, his administration is targeting more mental health cuts throughout Louisiana.

At some point, his administration needs to recognize that mental health is health care, and particularly after Hurricane Katrina, there is a desperate need for mental health care treatment. It's time we focus on being problem-solvers and address the needs of our citizens, rather than just being bean counters and cutting to cut.
Here comes the part about Secretary Shrimp:
It's more interesting that these additional devastating cuts in mental health care in Louisiana come at the same time of reports in our local newspaper about political friends, including Secretary Levine, enjoying the Governor's suite at the Super Dome for Saints games. Secretary Levine apparently commented that the suite wasn't anything special because it didn't have boiled shrimp or raw oysters like the other suites. I don't think these culinary cutbacks at a posh suite during a Monday Night NFL game are quite the same type of sacrifices as eliminating mental health care for the people of Louisiana.
Pretty revealing priorities, there, Sec. Shrimp.

Maybe if health care centers provided tasty buffets, you and Bobby would feel more compelled to support them. Meanwhile, I dare you to hold a town hall meeting with a few of the suffering patients and Katrina victims who no longer have a safe haven, let alone free booze and oyster treats.

Read many more great post by GottaLaff at The Political Carnival.

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