July 15, 2010
WASHINGTON, D.C.-- The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) today blasted BP oil company for ignoring Louisiana's appeals for help in funding mental health care in communities affected by the BP oil spill.
"It is imperative that BP recognize the urgent mental health crisis that has been created by the oil spill, including the heightened risk of long-term, chronic mental illness triggered by immediate conditions," wrote NAMI Executive Director Michael Fitzpatrick in a letter to BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles.
The NAMI letter comes after Louisiana's Department of Health and Hospitals advised the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in a July 9 letter that the state has written twice to BP asking for $10 million for mental health services without receiving any reply -- "not even a courtesy call" -- to acknowledge the request. Those letters were dated May 28 and June 28.
"BP has put considerable resources into media advertisements pledging to help people affected by the oil spill," Fitzpatrick said. Failure to reply swiftly to the request is "inconsistent with that pledge."
"Ours is a public health concern," he warned. Depression, suicide attempts, family violence and other mental health problems are on the rise. "The consequences of neglect and inaction are deadly."
NAMI's letter follows:
Mr. Doug Suttles Chief Operating Officer BP Exploration and Production Houston, TX 77079
Dear Mr. Suttles:
On behalf of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), I want to strongly support the request from Allen Levine, Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals for $10 million to help fund mental health services in communities affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. With more than 1,100 state and local affiliates, NAMI is the nation's largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness.
It is imperative that BP recognize the urgent mental health crisis that has been created by the oil spill, including the heightened risk of long-term, chronic mental illness triggered by immediate conditions.
In recent weeks, BP has put considerable resources into media advertisements pledging to help people affected by the oil spill. The company's apparent failure to respond swiftly to two appeals from Secretary Levine requesting financial assistance for mental health crisis counseling is inconsistent with that pledge.
Louisiana has struggled to provide services to its residents living with mental illnesses since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. These storms catastrophically reduced the capacity of the state's mental health care system, particularly through adverse impact on the availability of inpatient psychiatric beds, qualified mental health workforce and community-based services and supports. The state has worked hard to address these problems in recent years, but significant gaps in services remained -- even before this latest disaster.
Louisiana's mental health system has already been severely strained. The state does not have the resources to respond to the now rapidly growing numbers of people experiencing significant mental health crises due to the trauma of the oil spill and its impact on their livelihoods and ways of life. Nor should the state be forced to divert scarce mental health dollars away from existing services for people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other serious mental illnesses. Such a diversion of state funds would be a grave mistake, representing a short-term fix at the expense of the state's overall long-term needs.
Ours is a public health concern. The psychological impact of the oil spill on the lives of people is widely documented. Rates of depression, suicides and suicide attempts, family violence, alcoholism and substance abuse and other serious mental health problems are sharply on the rise in affected communities. These problems are so severe that mental health issues were identified as the priority health concern from the disaster at a recent meeting of the Institute of Medicine in New Orleans.
BP has a legal and moral obligation to help finance mental health services and supports to individuals and families whose lives are now at risk as a result of the oil spill. The consequences of neglect and inaction will be deadly.
Michael J. Fitzpatrick