Guinta IDs mental health as a top state issue

Last modified: 10/16/2014 12:21:25 AM
Though it was strong in years past, the state’s mental health treatment system is failing and must be addressed, Republican Frank Guinta said in an interview with the Monitor yesterday.

Guinta, who is challenging Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter for her 1st Congressional District seat, said mental health patients aren’t being treated in a dignified or efficient manner, and the state would benefit from more money and fewer barriers in its mental health system.

Guinta said he’s affected personally by this topic because for 20 years he’s been a caregiver for a family member with temporal lobe epilepsy, which he said is a “very unique mental illness” that can cause an untreated person to hear voices and experience psychosis to the point where it becomes difficult to manage basic life tasks.

“I’ve never really talked about it. It’s just an obligation I have and my family has,” he said.

But yesterday he identified it as one of the prominent challenges the state faces. He said as a member of Congress, it would be an important responsibility for him to increase the level of services the state offers.

This is the third time Guinta and Shea-Porter have faced off for the District 1 seat. Guinta, the former mayor of Manchester, ousted the four-year incumbent Shea-Porter amid a wave of Republican support in 2010. Then, Shea-Porter beat Guinta in 2012 to reclaim her seat. Now, Guinta said he’s seeking to return to Washington with a greater understanding of the process and the things he’s looking to accomplish.

Guinta said he hasn’t spoken about his personal connection with mental illness in the past out of respect for his family member’s privacy. But he said properly balancing a person’s privacy and well-being is one of the issues he’d like to address. For instance, he said, when the ill person refuses to give a family member access to his or her doctor, as is allowed by law, it becomes difficult for a caregiver to ensure proper diagnosis.

“The law is put in place for the protection of the individual, but by the same token, how do you communicate to the medical team what you experience, what you see, which is very important for the medical staff to make informed decisions,” he said.

Another area Guinta focused on was the process a patient goes through before getting appropriate mental health treatment. He said someone can show up at the Elliot Hospital emergency room in Manchester, then sit for three or four days while on a waiting list in a small room that’s part of a secured hallway that “looks like a cell block” before being transferred to Concord Hospital.

“That’s not treating somebody in a dignified way in my experience, and the individual is not getting the acute treatment they need,” he said, noting that it’s still a “huge process” before the family is allowed to talk to the Concord Hospital physician.

“The barriers waste time, essentially, and waste dollars because a lot of patients are on Medicare or Medicaid or some kind of government assistance, so the longer they stay because of inaction or inactivity, the taxpayer is paying for that,” he said.

He said Congress should address that “waste” and focus on efficacy of programs and stretching federal dollars.

Addressing the Affordable Care Act, Guinta said he would vote to repeal it, but he does support the provisions that protect people with pre-existing conditions and that allow people to stay on their parents’ health plans until age 26.

“It’s not a simple repeal and go back to what we used to have,” he said.

He said the law isn’t accomplishing the president’s two main goals of increasing access and decreasing cost, and he said it isn’t successful if just a few providers are competing in the marketplace. Guinta said people should be able to buy insurance from wherever they want. He said he’s spoken to insurance commissioners and other representatives in Congress from New England about banding together to create a marketplace.

“It can be done. We can have cooperative agreements. We can start in New England and just do a regional plan, not mandated, but erasing essentially those state lines in New England” so “more carriers are all of a sudden starting to compete for your business,” he said.

On Social Security, Guinta said his opponent would say he wants to eliminate or privatize it, but that’s not true. He said both parties need to negotiate without any preconceived notions of what’s “off the table.” He said Democrats are going to want to expand Social Security and Republicans are going to want so-called “chained CPI,” which would adjust the formula used to determine cost-of-living increases in Social Security. What’s important, he said, is achieving solvency.

In addressing the rising cost of college education, Guinta said one way to reduce spending is to reduce the amount of time a student is in school by utilizing the college’s resources year-round. He said Southern New Hampshire University is an example of a “potential trend” in which a student can complete a four-year degree in as few as 2½ years and “dramatically reduce the cost” of education. He said improving the job market is another way to reduce student loan debt by ensuring graduates have good opportunities and aren’t deferring their payments. He said he’d oppose any measure to eliminate student loan debt and saddle taxpayers with that cost instead.

Guinta said the United States hasn’t handled foreign policy well against the Islamic State. He said the president should have acted a year ago when the militant group’s numbers, territory and income were smaller.

“At that point, if it’s only 1,000 strong, you could have eliminated them,” he said.

He said airstrikes aren’t happening frequently enough, but also that it would take more than airstrikes to destroy the Islamic State. He said the countries in that region need to rally to eliminate terrorism on their own soil.

“I don’t see militarily how you defeat this organization without boots on the ground,” Guinta said. “I don’t want them to be American boots.”

Asked if climate change should factor in energy policy going forward, Guinta said that it “sounds like it will have a seat at the table,” but, “I’m not sure the science is accurate or complete on this issue.”

(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325 or or on Twitter @NickBReid.)

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