Infrastructure for People Matters Also

At times I like and choose to highlight short advocacy pieces that are opinion pieces written regionally that are so eloquent I feel they are worth sharing. They also serve as crystal clear reminders that mental health reform issues are really quite universal in our country.

One such piece was just published in The Buffalo News just today, August 30, 2017, still during the continuing agonizing events of Hurricane Harvey down in Houston Texas. This is a Wednesday as I write this and it has been raining in the Houston now for 5=6 days straight with over 50 inches all told having fallen in many areas, covering now up to 50 counties. It is dawning upon all of us, and without a doubt that domestically this may be not only one of the “defining issues” of the Trump Presidency but likely one of the “dominating” social issues of his tenure. The initial help efforts have been monumentally large, fast in onset and heartening to all who witness the “citizen” led and self-initiated efforts portrayed on the news outlets.

The infrastructure costs and time to repair will be higher than anything this nation has ever seen and will clearly take years. This is an incredibly sobering realization for this country which is many ways been spared because of its temperate climate the magnitude of many natural disasters that seem to inflict cruel pain and hardship on poorer regions of the world such as Bangladesh’s almost annual massive floods, displacing up to a million people during its monsoon season. I mention this because it is also happening there this very week also.

But there is another thread that I wish to emphasize in this post as no doubt many other citizen writers/bloggers and most of the national media will discuss and likely also argue over for a few weeks. That is the national physical infrastructure that has been neglected and minimally maintained in most parts of the country for a number of years if not decades. Urban plumbing, water systems, waste treatment capabilities and plants, water resources, roads, highways, airports, and bridges have come to be on the minds of governments at local, state and national levels.

President Trump campaigned on pledges to get the ball rolling on addressing the estimated trillion dollar do-over of our physical infrastructure, and reminding this job starved country that mobilizing and financing such a massive effort, would certainly stimulate the economy and furnish perhaps hundreds of thousands of jobs in the non-geek, non-digital revolution working public that desperately needs such an economic stimulus, jobs, financial self-respect and restoration of for want of a better word, real pride when one can work productively, provide for a family and contribute to the national good. Addressing either the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey or the neglected national physical infrastructure will dwarf easily by many orders of magnitude the public works efforts that FDR did during the 30’s and 40’s, and that Eisenhower continued with the building of the Interstate highway system in the 1950’s.

I do not intend to dampen the motivations or efforts to jump start the infrastructure vehicle of new jobs, return to fuller employment and so on, nor at all take anything away from how unbelievably important it will be to rebuild Houston as we did to a certain level with New Orleans after Katrina almost exactly 12 years ago this month.

But I do think that in all maturity of thought and decision making, “The Wall” on the border with Mexico can wait for a while if we do build it in the future. Houston and the flood victims and that area of the country so important to our economy as likely the seat of our petroleum industries, cannot wait. This is a potential showdown issue because even earlier this week while the enormity of the destruction of Hurricane Harvey has been unfolding currently before us all. President Trump was still demanding Congress commit to paying for his “Keep Out” Wall and threatening to shut down the federal government in September if his view of the priority status of the Wall was not heeded by Congress.

I am not totally sure of this and I am not a political commentator, but it does seem to me that in the last day and a half, the Wall stuff has begun to ebb and decrease and I hope this is true.

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But also our “human infrastructure” has been neglected as well and actively reduced in funding and resources for decades as well. Some or much of that reduction in mental health care services, or “social safety net,” which somehow still sounds like the bad word “socialism,” to some also needs continuing attention. We have made good progress in many parts of the country in this restoration and beginning repair of this person needs serving infrastructure and it would be a shame to see it short-shrifted again in the face of the massive needs we have suddenly inherited in just a week from Heartless Hurricane Harvey.

This is where the opinion piece from the newspaper in Buffalo of this very morning seems relevant and important to me. Its author, Thomas P. McNulty a Buffalo area advocate, long time therapist and now voice for human and mental health services’ article in his article, “Another Voice: Our behavior health infrastructure is broken,” reminds us that the other set of needs also of long standing remains and is also important.

Recently the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services released data that statewide NC has at least three overdose deaths from opioids DAILY. The Rust Belt states by common consensus attribute the surge in their opioid addiction and death rates to their nearly 20 years of job losses and the disappearance virtually of entire industries such as the coal mining industry in West Virginia, and textiles, furniture, and tobacco in North Carolina.

There have been a few extremely well done but somber documentaries on West Virginia’s slide into its current sad plight on television. Over and over the point was made that really did not require to be ‘taught’ to any of us. No jobs equal depression and hopelessness which can lead in many to drug addiction and for some death.

We are at a momentous crisis and critical in our country now. More than ever the decades of emphasis on bitter partisanship, senseless economic domination, greed in our national affairs, individual and mass selfishness have no place in our national life now. This is the social World War II of the 21st Century. We will have to turn ourselves into the “Greatest Generation” of this century and work together as we have not done so in over 30-40 years to preserve our society, our ideals and literally our way of life. We still are one of the western democracies that give hope to the rest of the world and in spite of our failings and shortcomings, we have to help ourselves as we have in times before of the greatest times of national crisis so that we can continue our belief that our belief in the worth of the person and people of all types and needs and accomplishments can emulate our efforts and follow in our path. Russia and even China with its current attraction for some are both totalitarian oppressive societies that differ from our values massively. China is helped along by finally mobilizing the economic power of its population but is still an Orwellian thought and speech controlled collective dictatorship.

Last week I heard an interview with an American scientific reporter of an articulate and likable sounding, well spoken People’s Republic of China young scientist. The interview was almost exciting covering new areas of fascinating research with likely very helpful and yet unimaginable benefits for the world. But when the lady American reporter asked this affable, expressive and pleasant young Chinese scientist about the free speech implications of his work, that it would inevitably have the potential to open up forbidden and squelched information to the Chinese people, this young man suddenly without warning went totally silent. The reporter realized he was self-censoring and could not discuss even just this possibility or even acknowledge it, made two courteous attempts to give him less direct openings to comment on this and he still remained deathly silent. The interview ended shortly after that very telling interlude or lack of exchange. The abruptness of his, I assume, cautious and perhaps even fearful, clamming up, was nothing short of stark and a riveting reminder of what China is still made of. Totalitarian views of the state, of governance, of conditional and highly controlled fields of expression or any freedoms at all. I found myself thinking that likely most Chinese have to accept the bargain of new and growing prosperity and western style coveted consumerism, that can be had only if one accepts the state’s control of everything else in your existence.

So back to work on our various infrastructures, retaining a place of importance of the human infrastructure needs of Houston and mental health reforms, so we do not end up neglecting ourselves into a slippery needless descent into a less free and fair society in our future. It will be hard and a very difficult balancing act, given our other national and world responsibilities but it is still worth. The alternatives are horrid.

 

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Author: Frank

I am a older child, adult, geriatric teaching psychiatrist with over 30 years' practice experience in North Carolina, first at Duke as clnical teaching faculty, then in Western NC as a primary child psychiatry specialist. I have taught and supervised child psychiatrists and psychiatrists in training and many other mental health professionals and taught at two medical schools. I have served in many public and private practice settings. My primary interest is in observing and documenting the ongoing mental health reform efforts in the State of North Carolina and documenting its sucessess and failures at all levels. My favorite pastime among many others is spoofing my friends and kids with my deadpan sense of humor.

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