Sunday, March 25, 2007

Gutting Community Mental Health

In Georgia, Community Mental Health Centers are in trouble. The Director of Mental Health Services for the Georgia Department of Human Resources has proclaimed that we are no longer going to "throw money" at mental health care. Funny, I hadn't noticed them throwing money that direction.

The Telegraph did a good job today reporting on what all sides refer to as a crisis. Here's the bottom line. In an effort to privatize Medicaid dollars, Georgia has added a layer of administrative oversight (and cost). Community mental health centers will not longer get block grants but instead will have to bill the state on a fee for service basis. As a provider, I can tell you that this means increased administrative costs on both ends- and even less money for direct care for patients.

Critical programs like the detox program in Bibb County and the methadone clinic at River Edge have already closed. Those who are guilty of crimes but mentally ill are no longer living in halfway houses in the community. They are living in apartments scattered across the community, and the overworked staff of River Edge "checks" on them. How can that be safe?

While we have watched mental health dollars diminish, our jail is overflowing with inmates in need of mental health care and medication. There was a dark time in our history when in ignorance we just locked up the mentally ill. It appears that we have again adopted that approach, but this time ignorance is no excuse. Effective treatment is available and costs far less than incarceration.

Consider these numbers as reported by Travis Fain in the Telegraph.

Mental illness in Bibb County's jail

In 2006:

* Bibb County spent $334,700 for River Edge Behavioral Health Center to provide services to mentally ill and drug addicted inmates.
* The county spent an additional $238,189 on psychotropic medications to treat inmates.
* 2,465 inmates were seen by the jail's in-house therapist.

SOURCE: Bibb County jail and River Edge Behavioral Health Center

Who suffers from a serious mental illness?
* 6.7 percent of Georgians (estimated)
* 25 percent to 35 percent of the homeless population
* 56 percent of state prisoners
* 45 percent of federal prisoners
* 64 percent of local jail inmates
SOURCE: National Alliance on Mental Illness


Tina said...

Here's a copy of the brief letter I wrote to the Macon Telegraph after reading Travis Fain's article.
"Travis Fain did a great job in Sunday's article on Georgia's "broken" mental health system. I hope it will have some impact on our legislature. What we are currently seeing is not a move toward better care for mental health patients, but an ideological committment to privatization, whatever the human cost.
The idea is to put the public mental health system out of business and give contracts to private companies. I'm no economist but it seems to me that when 'private' costs less than 'public' for equivalent services, pigs will fly."

Amy Morton said...

From one who knows the provider side. This will add layers of paperwork that is designed to keep the provider from getting a certain percentage of reimbursements they are actually due. And, by the way, in this model, patients who have no money and no insurance of any kind-what happens to them?