Does Charlie Baker Care About People More Than Dollars?

This has been an interesting few days for The Boston Globe.  Today they had the article Coakley, Baker face off in first head-to-head TV debate.

Baker’s desire to cultivate a softer image — a contrast with the hard-edged tone he presented in his 2010 campaign for governor — was evident throughout the night. When he was asked what the biggest misconception about him is, he said he chafed at the image painted by Democrats that he cares more about numbers than people.

“For me, it’s always been about people, and it bothers me that a guy who is pretty facile with math, which does matter when you’re talking about a $38 billion budget, is somehow considered to be somebody who doesn’t care about people,” he said.

Yesterday, The Boston Globe had the article Mental health record may be predictor for Baker.

 Charlie Baker walked in unannounced to tour Danvers State Hospital, and his face grew ashen as he witnessed patients jammed in rooms with little space, worn bedding, and most everything in disarray.

It was early 1991, Baker was Massachusetts’ new undersecretary for health, and the 34-year-old Harvard grad was having his first look at the state’s decrepit mental hospitals.

“It was almost like he was thinking, ‘My God, I have never seen anything like this,’ ” said Bernie Carey, executive director of the Massachusetts Association for Mental Health, who joined Baker for that tour.

So how do you think this story ends given that Charlie Baker is “For me, it’s always been about people”?  Do you suppose he saw the horrors and vowed to fix the problem by fully funding our mental health facilities.  Would he spend the money to give these patients better conditions in the hospital’s where they desperately needed better treatment?  If you have been around long enough, did you read the news stories published after 1991 how the Massachusetts mental health facilities became a model of humane treatment that the world has gladly followed?  Maybe you can search the archives of The Boston Globe for those stories.  I certainly don’t remember them  when I was living in Massachusetts from 1976 to 1994.

I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. Here is what yesterday’s article had to say.

Soon after, a special state commission recommended closing nine of the state’s most antiquated institutions, including Danvers and two other hospitals for mentally ill patients, and moving much of that care to the community. It was Baker’s job to get it done. His strategy involved a first-in-the-nation use of a for-profit company with power to approve or deny treatments for low-income mental health patients.

Baker’s blueprint saved Massachusetts millions of dollars at a time when the state was staring at a nearly $2 billion deficit, but it left thousands of mental health patients often waiting weeks for treatments. The controversial approach became his template for rescuing financially ailing Harvard Pilgrim Health Care a decade later.

The aftershocks of both initiatives are still being felt as the now 57-year-old Republican runs for governor, and those experiences, say Baker supporters and critics, provide a window into how he might handle similarly fraught and costly issues if elected.

Here are some more carefully chosen words from the article.

Over the next several years, suicide rates among mental health patients who had received state services soared. That prompted a blistering 1997 report from a legislative panel that criticized the Weld administration for lax monitoring of patients and failing to investigate their deaths in a timely way.

Two years later, a Brandeis University study gave the state high marks for innovative community-based mental health programs launched during the 1990s, but found too many patients waiting for services. The researchers also found that claims were paid more quickly, the state reaped savings, and some health care providers felt that Massachusetts’ long-fragmented mental health services were better coordinated.

As we have been finding out in the run-up and aftermath to the adoption of Obama’s ACA, the US has some of the finest medical care for those who can get it.  For those people who can’t get it, the system sucks.  Brandeis University showed that if you take off your eyeglasses and squint just right, you can find a lot of merit in our current system.  The people who committed suicide aren’t around to tell you about what you missed.

Here, let me pile on some more with tis excerpt from  the article.

After Baker left state government and became chief executive at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care in 1999, he continued to champion privatizing mental health services. With Harvard Pilgrim teetering on bankruptcy in 2000, Baker clamped down on mental health costs by bringing in ValueOptions — the same for-profit company that managed those services in the state’s Medicaid program.

Within months, a number of mental health specialists dropped Harvard Pilgrim patients because of low reimbursements for services. That exacerbated a phenomenon known as “stuck kids,” children who were deemed well enough to leave psychiatric hospital units but had nowhere to go because of a lack of community-based services.

However, here is the capper to explain how Baker cares about people, not just numbers.

He defends his decision to bring in a for-profit company to manage mental health services in state government, noting in an interview, “If it was such a bad idea, how come the Commonwealth is still running the same model 20 years later?”

Charlie, you closed the state mental hospitals.  You diverted the money you saved to other programs other than mental health. How was the state supposed to go back and fix the permanent damage that you had done?   How will we fix the damage you will do if you are elected Governor?  Will we be suffereing the consequences for more than 20 years as we have from your last reign of error?

See my subsequent post Charlie Baker Finds Solution To Public Housing Crisis.

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