Cape Gazette makes unfortunate decision

February 20, 2018

Despite my love for the Cape Gazette, I became very upset when the newspaper failed to do a story about a Mental Health, Addiction Public Forum being held in Georgetown Feb. 15. Its purpose was to get stories about people's experiences with Delaware's behavioral health system, and ideas on how the system can be improved.

In August 2017, Gov. Carney signed into law legislation that created the Behavioral Health Consortium headed by the lieutenant governor. It is an advisory body composed of community advocates, law enforcement, healthcare professionals, and state leaders that will assess and outline an integrated plan for action to address prevention, treatment and recovery for mental health, substance abuse, and co-occurring disorders.

The lt. governor believes in action and wanted to hear from the public about what their needs were and what changes they wanted to see first. The consortium would then act on the most urgent ones right away. In setting up public forums in Wilmington, Dover, Delaware City, and Georgetown, she sent a news release to all the newspapers throughout the state explaining the purpose of these forums and the dates.

I read the Gazette's Tuesday paper before the forum and could not find any news article about it except for an unintelligible calendar entry. I went to the Gazette to complain. The person I spoke to was defensive, made excuses and argued that she did not see it as important. She said that they had in the past given coverage to issues in the mental health area. True, but this was very important to get the public's input now. Since the Cape Gazette serves one of the more populous areas in Sussex County, it was important at this moment to get out the information about the forum. This person did not have good listening skills. After having to explain to her in two different ways, she finally understood the importance of the event. Of course, too late. She also stated that she could not have any people at the event because of sickness.

There were consequences of the Gazette not reporting about the event. While the event was well attended, I observed that there were very few of the general public there. Most of the people there had been notified through other sources, as well as were invited to attend (like myself). While it was important to get input from these people such as law enforcement, politicians, health workers, social workers, schools and other institutional people, the purpose of the event, again was to get input from those who are most affected by mental health, addiction and opiates issues. I spoke to the lt. governor if she would hold another event in Sussex County, and she said yes but gave no date or location.

There was no reporter there from the Cape Gazette whereas all the other local and state newspapers and TV stations were there.

In addition, almost all the reporters, as well as one publisher participated in the forum.

The participants were divided into seven to eight focus groups with a facilitator assigned to each group. Each group was requested to discuss their stories and answer two questions about how they thought the system was working and what issue needs to be addressed first.

All of the groups agreed that there was a lack of resources. Examples were psychiatrists and other providers; transportation getting to and from appointments; major detox centers other than Harrington; stigma; education; etc.

The lt. governor stated that those items that had little or no cost would be implemented by a May to June timeframe. She said that those with costs would take longer. In my view education, public awareness and fighting stigma would be least costly with others to follow.

Other major issues discussed were a need for Peer to Peer facilities in each county; Suicide prevention education; law enforcement training to handle calls involving individuals with mental health and addiction issues; and a crackdown on the selling of drugs.

It is hoped that when this consortium’s public forum returns to Sussex County, the Cape Gazette will give it the publicity that it deserves.

Harris S. Marx

Editor’s note: The only advance this newspaper received was a flyer announcing dates and locations of four forums to be held in Delaware. If a news release had been submitted it would have been published. Due to flu running through the newsroom, there was no one available to cover the event.

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