Legislators begin the new session with mental health issues higher on their to-do list than they have been in the past four years.
Under an agreement with the federal government, the state will be expected to make progress toward finding housing, developing job support and expanding treatment for mentally ill people to allow those who are able to leave adult care homes and hospitals to live in communities.
And after years of eliminating state psychiatric hospital beds, some legislators want to consider a major expansion.
While they have some time to consider their response to some of these issues, legislators are being asked in their first days to make sure mentally disabled people living in group homes who face loss of Medicaid money have some way to stay in their residences.
Gov. Pat McCrory and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos have spoken about the need to pay more attention to how the state treats people with mental illnesses.
Wos said this month that mental health policies are becoming more a part of the public discourse. People realize that broad responsibility for caring for the most vulnerable is spread among families, government and religious organizations, she said.
“I think we’re starting to discuss it seriously at this point, how to pay for it, which direction to go, who’s going to pay for it,” she said. “The citizens have to be prepared that that will come from their tax base at the end of the day, and we have to realize we have to pay for it.”
While they are being pushed by the federal government to have more mentally ill people live outside adult care homes and hospitals, some legislators are interested in adding more state hospital beds.
Just months after the last patients were moved from Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh to have state psychiatric hospital beds concentrated at three sites, a legislative subcommittee on mental health wants to examine building a fourth hospital in the south central region of the state.