MCAN speaks up about downtown land sale

An organization devoted to supporting mental health is raising concerns about the pending sale of Mental Health Trust-owned land in downtown Juneau.

The Mental Health Consumers Action Network has issued a letter protesting the Trust’s sale of land to Develop Juneau Now LLC, which plans to build a heating plant, apartments and shops near Coast Guard Station Juneau on Egan Drive.

“We respectfully ask that this pending sale … be reconsidered,” the letter states.

Greg Fitch, director of MCAN, said he’s personally concerned that the sale won’t result in a better deal for the mentally ill, who are supposed to benefit from Trust actions.

The letter suggests the Trust should include sale conditions, such as affordable housing dedicated to “mental health consumers and trust beneficiaries” or employing “mental health consumers” in the construction that will follow the sale.

Fitch said MCAN isn’t opposed to Develop Juneau Now — whose backers are the same as those of the Sweetheart Lake hydroelectric plant — but MCAN wants to hold the Trust accountable to its core mission.

“That is exactly where we’re at with this,” he said.

The Trust was established after a scandal revealed improper treatment of the mentally ill at Morningside hospital in Oregon, where Alaskans were sent.

A land grant and financial grant were supposed to allow the Trust to provide services that meet Alaska’s needs, but a 2016 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation ranked Alaska’s mental health care 47th of 51 states and D.C.

“If we’re 47th in the country, my God, there’s no excuse for that,” Fitch said.

He pointed to the recent shooting by an Alaska man who was released from mental health treatment after four days, then flew to Florida and killed several people in Fort Lauderdale’s airport.

Fitch said MCAN intends to speak up for patients and press for the Trust to improve care.

“We’re a mental health consumer group,” he said. “We’re about better care for ourselves.”

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