Sen. Warren talks about substance abuse, mental health at local hospital

This article appeared on August 22, 2015 in The Gardner News. 

Mass. Senator Elizabeth Warren vowed to fight for improved mental health and substance abuse care during a visit to Heywood Hospital on Thursday afternoon.

“I’m here to learn as much as I can,” she told a small crowd of health care providers, media and officials, “so I can go back to Washington and be a more effective advocate on your behalf.”

As part of her “Fighting for Massachusetts” trip around the state, Sen. Warren visited Heywood Hospital at the request of Sen. Jen Flanagan, D–Leominster, who told her “you need to see what’s happening here.” The pair, along with Heywood officials and Rep. Jon Zlotnik, D–Gardner, toured the facility before a public meeting at 1 p.m.

Sen. Warren said the work at Heywood — which she called a “terrific facility” with “terrific people”  — gives her hope for the future of healthcare, if properly funded.

“I want to see people have access to high quality healthcare,” said Sen. Warren.

Both Sen. Warrand and Sen. Flanagan praised steps the new substance abuse recovery law Sen. Flanagan wrote as well as the new behavioral and mental health facility Heywood plans to open in Petersham.

However, they both said there’s more work to do, pointing to the distance people travel to facilities, lack of beds and treatment affordability as key issues.

They also agreed something needs to be done at the federal level, noting state borders mean very little to someone in a health crisis.

“We need to look to the federal delegation to make a very fragmented and broken system whole,” said Sen. Flanagan, adding later that Sen. Warren is up for the challenge.

“She’s a true honest voice for our families, the working people,” she said.

As for Sen. Warren, she plans to be a “good partner” in the fight. She opened up her speech on Thursday with an example of her persistence, referencing her fight with congressional leadership to be able to sit on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. As a freshmen on capitol hill she was initially told that she could sit on more than one A-list committee.

She was clear there will be a cost to addressing mental health and substance abuse issues, saying more money will be required to fund research and create programs. Some funds, she said, could be reallocated through prison reform and tax revenue.

“We need to walk straight up to (the issue) and say we are not putting in enough money,” Sen. Warren said. “Shame on all of us if we are not willing to step up.”

After her visit, Sen. Warren visited the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. Today, she will visit the Newburyport non-profit Opportunity Works which provides employment services and other support for people with disabilities on the North Shore and in the Merrimack Valley. She will also make a stop in Gloucester.


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