Your Aug. 9 editorial “ Treatment does more than jail for most mentally ill offenders” and the recent news article on extended timeframes for mental evaluations highlight the national issue that is critical for North Carolina.
The editorial quoted an April report by the Treatment Advocacy Center that suggests the mental health system has been deteriorating for the past 10 years across North Carolina. Past statistics indeed support the need for improvement. However, it is imperative that we look forward.
We are creating new preventative measures to lower incarceration rates and costly emergency room care visits. Recently, the Smoky Mountain Local Management Entity-Managed Care Organization, which provides mental health services for 23 Western North Carolina counties, announced it will open a behavioral health crisis stabilization facility in fall 2015. This should save local law enforcement $10,000 a year and will support residents experiencing a mental health crisis in their communities.
We must also find stability in our existing mental health services in North Carolina. There is no doubt that previous reforms in North Carolina have not lived up to their intended goals. Gov. Pat McCrory’s plan for Medicaid reform builds on the existing LME/MCO system instead of restructuring it, ensuring a sustainable path going forward. That is why we established the Crisis Solutions Coalition in October as part of our overall efforts to improve the system. This coalition of leaders from across the state from the public mental health system, education, law enforcement, providers, advocates, people with mental illness and their families will offer us recommendations.
McCrory and the N.C. General Assembly have chosen to pursue this critical issue by providing money to continue building the community infrastructure needed to support citizens who struggle with mental health. We must make certain that we are effectively using our state and community hospitals by making them available for the people who need more intensive help. Through the funding provided in the budget, we are adding additional bed capacity to our state-run psychiatric hospitals, and we have already increased the inpatient capacity in our community hospitals.
In October, DHHS will submit a report to the legislature with recommendations for the number of hospital beds needed. We are committed to addressing this important issue in North Carolina. Together, with our community partners, we can work each day to pursue that vision and a better treatment and care system for North Carolina.
Dave Richard, deputy secretary, Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities Services, NC DHHS
The length limit was waived to permit a fuller response to the editorial.