State wants BP to pay for mental health services

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by Meg Farris / Medical Reporter

wwltv.com

Posted on July 30, 2010 at 6:18 PM

NEW ORLEANS - The $20 billion that BP has put up to help people affected by the oil spill covers economic loses but not mental or other health care services, so the state is again asking BP for funding for mental health treatment as it is about to run out.

A new letter from the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals marks the third revised request from the state, asking BP to pay for the mental health treatment of the citizens who are suffering from the months-long oil leak.
 
"These are families that have lost everything,” said Alan Levine, the Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. “People like us that haven't been there, that aren't experiencing it first hand, we can't possibly begin to put ourselves in their shoes. What they are dealing with their children, with their families, not knowing where their next paycheck is going come from. We're talking generations, families who for generations have been on the coast that now have lost everything. And so the impact is significant on these families.
 
The letter states that nearly $29 million is needed to fund the work already underway in Louisiana since Hurricane Katrina. Those funds would pay for treatment through October of next year. In recent weeks doctors, social workers and counselors have said they are finding increasing behavioral health concerns.
 
"There's widespread anxiety. Obviously there is a lot of uncertainty in the community. When is this going to end, how is this going to affect our livelihoods, are we ever going to be able to go back to our fishing to shrimping to living our lives," said  Dr. Benjamin Springgate, Director of Community Health at Tulane, during a July 15 mental health seminar.
 
Exxon did not pay for mental health medical problems after the Valdez spill. And a study showed people needed help. There were dramatic increases in anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and domestic violence.
 
Incoming BP CEO Bob Dudley says he has been approached by state officials for mental health funding but would not give any specifics.
 
"We want to work with the local organizations. We want to work with local organizations and charities who are really and closely in touch with the communities where these are. And we're working through a set of proposals right now to make some decisions on that," said Dudley.
 
So far the $20 billion dollars from BP covers economic loses but it does not cover mental or other health services. Now on his last day in office, Secretary Alan Levine is concerned that the clock is ticking since the first request.
 
"We've made our first ask over two months ago. We're at a point now where the funding that we put on the table at the very beginning, is going to run out this month, in August and there really isn't any more time to spare. We don't want to have to cut services back for bureaucratic reasons," said Levine.
 
The state is asking BP for an answer no later than August 5 because that's when the funds for current services will run out.
 

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