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Region II Regional Mental Health Board Acknowledgments

History and Background of Region II South Central Connecicut (CT) Regional Mental Health Board

The establishment of regional mental health boards was a 1970s link in a long chain of  Connecticut state government scrutiny and oversight, through the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, examining how well public funds are spent in providing services to persons with mental illness.

The chain of scrutiny traces back at least to the 19th century when a state hospital was the main mental health resource in Connecticut. The courageous Dorothea Dix riveted nationwide public attention on the inhumane treatment of persons with mental illness. The Connecticut General Assembly created a board of visitors to examine treatment conditions.

In the 20th Century, Clifford Beers of Connecticut, a former patient in Connecticut’s state hospital, further focused public outcry about the poor treatment of persons who were mentally ill. The 1953 state legislature established a state board of mental health with responsibilities for review of policies and services.

By 1965, state legislation authorized the department to enhance the availability of community-based mental health programs by making grants to municipalities, hospitals and non-profit agencies for the establishment and maintenance of mental health services. A network of mental health regional planning councils was also created, assuming some planning responsibilities. Issues to be examined appeared to cover evaluation of existing programs, and identification location for needed programs.

Critics of the councils’ performance at the time, cited weaknesses which included: key responsibilities for scrutiny were placed in the hands of reviewers who were compromised as entrenched political appointees or who had a collegial relationship with directors of programs under review; also, final decisions on grant awards were made by one individual in the department with little consideration of planning council findings. But the most frequently scored gap in review and planning of services, perhaps made more vivid by the launching of national community mental health centers federal legislation, was that scrutiny of Connecticut services provided no responsible role or authoritative participation for consumers of program services.


Connecticut State Representative Ruth Clark, of Branford, introduced in 1974 the earliest legislative language which was eventually to establish regional mental health boards. Representative Clark offered a bill which sought to set up regional mental health authorities. The authorities were to be independent quasi-public corporate entities to which public funds could be appropriated, but which also would have full power to raise funds independently, evaluate regional programs, plan for needed services in the region, disburse funds for regional mental health services and otherwise determine the kinds of services and their location within each region. A fundamental feature of the proposal was the requirement that a majority of the members of the boards of each authority would be consumers, defined as non providers of mental health services. 

The opposition to the Clark bill was immediate and vocal. Spokespersons who asserted that there was no need for such legislation included representatives of psychiatric societies, direct service programs and the mental health regional planning councils. Everyone was protecting his, or her, own ox from being gored.
Never the less the bill passed becoming Public Act 74-224, but the final version had compromised away the establishment of independent quasi-public regional authorities, substituting regional mental health boards  responsible to the department commissioner. In 1975 the legislature made a number of technical changes to the 1974 law producing Public Act 75-563, which preserved consumer majority in the stratified organizational structure which, for the most part, exists today.  


Now codified under Title 17a of the Connecticut General Statutes, the law states that the commissioner of the department shall divide the state into geographic regions for mental health service planning purposes, and shall further subdivide each region into catchment areas comprised of towns within the region. The commissioner has established five mental health regions within Connecticut.

The statute specifies that the study and evaluation of the delivery of a catchment area’s mental health services shall be conducted by a council within that catchment area  in accordance with regulations adopted by the commissioner of the department, and that the council shall report to the regional mental health board as the board may request or as the council deems necessary.

Legislatively specified duties of the regional mental health board include advising the commissioner of the department, studying the needs of the region, developing plans for services, endeavoring to stimulate and coordinate additional and expanded mental health services, also to review and make recommendations to the commissioner regarding all applications for funds, and such other duties as are in accordance with regulations adopted by the commissioner of the department.

The law also describes how the board of each region, the regional mental health board, is formed by delegates from the region’s constituent catchment area councils, and specifies how catchment area councils are formed through the appointment of consumers by town and city mayors.


The Region II Connecticut (CT) Regional Mental Health Board (RMHB II) was one of the first boards organized in accordance with Public Act 75-563. A meeting was convened in the fall of 1975, at No. 1 State Street in New Haven. The gathering of a number of interested citizens was called at the initiative of Dr. Jessica Wolf of Westport, a past-member of the then superseded regional mental health planning council.

As determined by the commissioner at this earliest point, Region 2 covered an area of 20 towns, including  New Haven and shore-line towns east and west, and north to Meriden.  It contained 5 catchment areas (CAs 5 through 9). The number of towns in each catchment area ranged from two to six. Years later, the region was redrawn by the commissioner to include a sixth catchment, CA 10, which brought the total number of towns in Region 2 to 35.

During 34 years of performance, RMHB II, and its 6 constituent catchment area councils, have endeavored to meet its legislatively mandated and regulated responsibilities with objectivity and enlightened aggressiveness. A total of nearly 200 program evaluations have been made, and reported annually to the commissioner of the department. RMHB II service evaluations have evolved over the years to recognize not only, program areas requiring strengthening or improvement but also services that are commendable. One of the board’s mid-career steps was to form its own consumer advisory council, to accommodate and provide a sounding board for even more consumers than the majority of the board itself.

On only one occasion has a catchment area council and RMHB II experienced truculent resistance to making constructive changes which are called for in a program. Barely a decade after it first organized, RMHB II moved to defund a mental health service program because of refusal to abide by the RMHB II evaluation findings, gross incompetence and administrative chicanery. The board has encountered no similar experience since.

In recent years, the type of program  to be reviewed annually is advised by the department, so that all regions are evaluating similar programs.

RMHB II, in conjunction with its catchment area councils has also developed, revised and developed, developed and amended, dozens of plans for mental health services for the region, identifying subareas in acute need and types of services of highest priority. 

Over the years, this work has brought substantial improvements in the availability of community based services including supervised apartment beds, group home beds, vocational services slots, expansion of psychosocial rehabilitation programs in selected communities, strengthening of case management services for discharged patients in selected towns, the launching of crisis intervention services in selected communities resulting in diverting unnecessary hospitalizations, and solid  improvements in access to acute care for selected towns.
During its 34 years of activity, a total estimated at more than $2-million in state funds has been invested by the department in support of RMHB II work. Although financial support from each of the region’s 35 towns was not initially sought, their total contributions to the present amount to close to $500,000.

Mental Health Board