Tipper Gore urges more affordable mental health care

January 30, 1998


Staff Writer

FREDERICK, Md. - Tipper Gore met local youths with mental illnesses Thursday and advocated the need for quality, affordable mental health care in the country.

Speaking to a room filled with 225 Frederick County mental health care providers, the wife of Vice President Al Gore said people too often view diseases of the mind as less worthy of treatment than diseases of the heart, lungs or liver.

"I think it's wrong. I think it's un-American. Certainly the brain is the most important part of the body," she said, drawing applause from her audience at the Holiday Inn on the Golden Mile.


Before her lunchtime speech, Gore toured the Jefferson School south of Frederick and met its 75 students, 50 of whom live at the school.

"I looked into the eyes of those children and the wonderful, caring, compassionate people who work with these children. This community is a model to the rest of the nation," Gore said.

The Jefferson School serves children and adolescents, primarily from Frederick County, but also from Washington County, who have mental illnesses or severe emotional problems.

Before it opened a little more than a year ago, youth had to leave the state for that kind of help, said Holly Maddux Bartlett, spokeswoman for Sheppard Pratt Health System in Baltimore, which runs the school.

"It's considered to be a great contribution to Western Maryland. The children who need these special services can at least be near their families," she said.

Reporters were barred from Gore's tour of the school to protect the confidentiality of the students, she said.

Gore, flanked by Secret Service agents, arrived at the Holiday Inn's banquet room at 12:30 p.m.

A dozen news reporters were told not to ask questions or they would be removed. None did.

Dr. Steven S. Sharfstein, president, CEO and medical director of Sheppard Pratt, introduced Gore.

"She has, ever since working in the White House, been an advocate for mental health issues," said Sharfstein, who is a member of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality in the Health Care Industry.

Gore said she would continue in that role, "no matter what happens."

For about 20 minutes, she talked about the stigma that still exists in mental health care.

There was a time when people were afraid to discuss people who had cancer. More recently, the taboo subject was AIDS.

Today, it is mental illness that people need to be more open about, she said.

There are between 8 million and 12 million children diagnosed with mental illness in the country, many of whom don't receive adequate treatment, she said.

Last summer, President Clinton signed the Children's Health Initiative, which earmarked $24 billion so states could provide health care coverage to 5 million children, she said.

During Tuesday night's State of the Union Address, the president called for a Consumer Bill of Rights that would eliminate health care insurance discrimination between physical and mental illnesses.

Currently, the law prohibits employers from setting yearly or lifetime limits on mental health care treatment that are lower than limits for physical health care, she said.

As Gore left the room after her speech, she received a standing ovation.

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