National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Don Muller was nominated by NAMI Utah. View the nomination letter from NAMI Utah. (pdf, opens in new window)
Each board candidate was asked to answer several questions relating to NAMI and the experience they bring to the board. Each candidate was limited to 300 words for each answer. Read Don's answers below:
NAMI Self-Identification Statement
In 1986 our daughter suffered a life threatening eating disorder. Her physical and mental health was severely affected for several years. After two hospitalizations she is doing well. Our son became severely depressed at twelve. At twenty-five he is productively employed, but continues to suffer periodic episodes of depression.
Why do you want to serve on the NAMI National board of directors?
I have spent my entire career as a mental health professional committed to improving services for those persons affected by serious mental illness and addiction disorders. My early experience was working in the state division of mental health where I focused on issues of expansion, quality, and funding of statewide services for adults and children. I then became a mental health center director with responsibility for providing services to people with serious mental illness and their families. It was in that capacity that I really understood the horrific toll mental illness and addiction disorders take upon an individual and their family. I believe NAMI represents the most effective and relevant voice on mental illness today. I want to continue working for people and their families whose lives have been forever changed by mental illness.
I believe that I can make a difference. I have been involved with NAMI as an affiliate member and served as the NAMI-UT Board President. In 2005-2006, I served as the Chair of the national NAMI Board State Presidents Council. My combined experiences have helped me to understand issues confronting local, state, and national NAMI.
We are facing a crisis in mental health today. State and national executive and legislative priorities have lead to actions that have reduced funds for services vital to persons with mental health and addiction disorders. Essential services such as health, prescription drugs, and housing are being lost. The grassroots voice provided by NAMI is needed now more than ever. We need strong advocates and committed board members to lead in continuing a voice that cannot be extinguished. I believe that I can add to that voice and help to realistically address these issues.
What financial management or fund raising expertise would you bring to the Board?
I have extensive administrative experience as chief executive officer for the second largest mental health center in Utah. I was selected as director of Wasatch Mental Health after 3.5 million dollars had been embezzled by the prior administration. When I retired, the center was in a strong financial position with a budget of 14 million dollars and had vastly expanded services.
In 2001, when I became a member of the NAMI-UT board the operating budget was $50,000. Over a six-year period, our budget increased to over $400,000. The accomplishment of this financial goal was the result of a team effort achieved by opening new doors to public and private donors. This funding has enabled NAMI-UT to expand its education and support mission and its voice as an advocate for mental health in Utah. Increased funding has supported growth in programs that include Family to Family, BRIDGES in community and correctional settings, Peer and Family Mentoring, Clergy Training, School Based Education for Children and Families, and Provider Training. Beyond the money raised, approximately 1,000 NAMI-UT members and others provided over 70,000 volunteer hours in 2005.
As a member of the NAMI National board, I believe my experience and understanding of administrative procedures, fund raising, and budgetary oversight will be of considerable help. I am strongly committed to professional ethics and fiscal responsibility in all actions taken by the board.
What is the most pressing public policy issue facing NAMI members today? What course of action do you suggest?
One of the most pressing public policy issues for NAMI members is the legislation to reduce Medicaid funding by billions of dollars over the next ten years. Most of those who are disabled because of serious and persistent mental health and addictive disorders are dependent on Medicaid for essential health and behavioral healthcare services. Because large portions of the psychological benefits are not mandated, they are very vulnerable to reduction or elimination by federal and state policy makers. Governors and legislatures will look to modification and elimination of Medicaid services to compensate for out of control healthcare costs.
NAMI must continue work to protect Medicare and Medicaid as a viable health insurance plan for poor, disabled and elderly persons. Mental Health is under attack from those who believe that mental illness is not real. Many see services for mental illness as expensive and unnecessary. They often believe that these services are better and more cheaply provided by charitable and religious organizations. National leadership can make a difference in how state and local NAMI affiliates will accomplish their goals of advocating and engaging state decision makers.
Medicaid funding and housing vouchers are essential services that must be at the forefront of NAMI advocacy. The reduction in section eight housing supports threatens both permanent and temporary housing for the mentally ill. There are growing concerns in each of our states regarding how these reductions will be addressed. NAMI national and state organizations must work with a coalition of advocacy groups to ensure that NAMI has significant influence on the actions of congress and other policy makers. We must insist that we have a chair at the table and that we are allowed to participate in those decisions that can so significantly affect our loved ones.
What brought you to NAMI -- and what is most valuable to you about your participation in the NAMI movement?
As a new mental health center director, I attended my first NAMI convention in 1988. The mental health center I was to now lead was in shambles and threatened with closure. I needed help in restoring the center to a financially strong position that would ensure fulfillment of its mission to serve persons with serious mental illness. I was reaching out to NAMI-UT members for support when I chose to go to the convention in Washington D.C.
I came away from that first NAMI convention a changed person. I had not anticipated the impact that the message of the convention and being there with three thousand family members would have on me. For the first time in my career, service to the mentally ill became a passion not a job. I learned what "NAMI Advocacy" really was. From that date forward, I embraced family and consumer support and education. I insisted that my staff do so as well. For many of them this was difficult to do, but I believe this change in attitude was significant in allowing the center to be restored and once again serve its intended population.
In addition to my professional life, NAMI has helped me in my personal life. Several of our children have suffered with emotional problems, depression, and ADHD. I found dealing these issues affected me much differently as a parent than they did as a professional social worker. As my wife and I struggled through these issues with our children, NAMI was there as a resource and support to our family. All of these experiences have cemented the commitment of my time and energy to the work that NAMI is engaged in.
What is the most pressing internal or organizational issue facing NAMI today? What course of action do you suggest?
One of the most pressing issues facing NAMI today is funding and expansion of our resource base. A quote often heard in a charitable cause states "no money, no mission". I believe it is the fiduciary responsibility of all NAMI boards to devote a significant portion of their effort to the funding of the NAMI core mission of advocacy, education, and support. Every option for funding must be explored including legislative, foundations, individuals, corporations, and events such as the NAMI Walk. NAMI must continue to provide training and information through leadership development, technical assistance and support, and revenue producing strategies to help local leaders be effective in developing local resources.
There are several issues regarding membership that need to be addressed. We must first resolve the process by which new memberships are enrolled and tracked. It should be a process that is easily accessed and completed by anyone wishing to join. The current process is too cumbersome and not working effectively. In addition, we need to be focused on developing leadership skills among a younger population. Much of our state and local leadership is aging. Steps need to be taken to provide opportunity for younger members to experience leadership roles in order to prepare them to carry on the mission of NAMI.
I would appreciate your vote.