Bishop Conlon Feb 08

Statement on the Appalachian Behavioral Healthcare Ohio Budget cuts


          On January 31, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland announced a number of spending cuts to deal with a projected budget shortfall. Among the cuts is the closing of the Appalachian Behavioral Healthcare in Cambridge. Appalachian Behavioral Healthcare is one of the remaining mental hospitals operated by the state. Over the past 30 years, many other hospitals have been closed and the patients transferred to group homes located in almost every city of the state.
          The closing of work sites and the loss of jobs is an all too familiar scenario for the people living in the 13 counties of the Diocese of Steubenville. 
          Still, the governor’s decision, which no doubt was a difficult one for him to make, raises an issue that goes beyond the loss of jobs, painful and real as it is.
          People who suffer from mental illness and deficiency are some of the most tragic members of our society. Often they have little or no family support. They are incapable of managing their own lives or supporting themselves. At best, other people feel awkward around them and try to avoid them; at worst, they resent their very existence.
          I happened to be in Cambridge the day after Governor Strickland’s announcement. Father Robert Borer, the local pastor, told me the story about a woman who lives in one of the local group homes for the mentally ill.   On one particularly hot day, she stripped off her clothes and cooled off in the sprinklers on the courthouse lawn. So much for human dignity.
          I am sure that every effort will be made to place the residents of the Appalachian Behavioral Healthcare in another appropriate facility. Nevertheless the move will be hard for them, one more hardship in an already incredibly tough life.
          I hope that all of us who are disciples of Christ will find a place in our hearts to love and support those among us who suffer from mental illness and deficiency.   During his earthly ministry, Jesus frequently cured those whom Satan afflicted with conditions that today we might judge to be mental illness. We might not be able to cure such people, but there is much that we can do, starting with a right attitude. Like us, they are children of God and precious in his sight.