North Carolina DHHS Aims To Reform Mental Health, Reduce ER Visits

5:15 PM, Dec 9, 2013   |    comments
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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is trying to make sure people with mental health issues have options available and know where to get treatment. 

DHHS has formed a Crisis Solutions Coalition to tackle mental health reform. On Monday, nearly 80 people gathered in Raleigh to discuss the issue.

In North Carolina, the number of people going to an emergency room for mental health jumped by 17,000 over the two-year period from 2010-2012. In addition, more than $7 million is spent keeping psychiatric patients in emergency departments.

"It's putting added strain on emergency room services for those that are in dire need of life-saving emergency help," Mental Health Association of Greensboro Executive Director Susan Ball said.

Theresa Johnson, Family Service of the Piedmont Director of Clinical Services, added, "There is state funding for people who don't have insurance. But, the problem is how many providers in the community accept that type of state funding...We're talking about accessibility. How accessible are those services for people who need them most? I think with all the changes that have happened in North Carolina, accessibility has continually gone down."

In Guilford County, Family Service of the Piedmont and The Sandhills Center both offer walk-in clinics for mental health needs. However, with all the cuts to mental health, programs that are left get overwhelmed.

"There has been a vast turnover in professional provider agencies in the area over the last few years due to changing regulations and changing funding and Medicare billing. It has become and administrative task to keep these agencies going," Ball said.

Johnson said, "If they (providers) can get $100 from the insurance and only get $56 from the state, they're going to take more insurance people, not the ones who have state funding."

The new state coalition aims to keep people out of the ER, create a crisis plan for people in need and find better ways to focus on prevention and recovery.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in four people in the United States suffers from mental health issues. That's nearly 58 million people. Mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the United States.

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