Thank you for Ms. Brittney Parker’s excellent article “Mental health services costly in Macon County” which appeared in the Oct. 17 issue of your newspaper. Ms. Parker did a great job explaining the problems associated with the 375 percent increase cost of mental health commitments to the Sheriff’s Department. It is true much of the reason for this increase in cost is the decrease in the number of psychiatric hospital beds in the state. However, the main reason for this increase is, at the same time the state reduced the number of psychiatric beds, they also all but eliminated the funding for local outpatient treatment that made hospitalizations unnecessary. The end result of the legislature’s action has been an increase in the most expensive form of treatment for this population – hospitalization.
As a result of this county tax dollars are spent on handling the commitments, needless expense is incurred by the local hospital as these people spend up to three days in the ER awaiting a bed and the state is spending more money than is necessary for hospitalizations. Treating mental illness is very similar to treating the physically ill. Early access to treatment yields a better prognosis and overall savings in health care expenditures. The solution to the mental health crises is clear and simple: Restore funding for the services that existed before the problem existed. This would include aggressive case management, services to family members, quicker access to counseling services and improved availability of the medications that treat the symptoms causing the problems. The result of this would be the saving of public dollars, unclogging the ER with psychiatric patients and improving the mental health of our citizens.
Commissioner Beale is correct in his belief that counties should have more input to the state and local LME in how the county funds are to be used. It’s clear our state legislature and Smoky Mountain Center are incapable of providing the leadership necessary to change the downward spiral in mental health services. They have had plenty of time to make the necessary changes but haven’t done so. Our only hope then is to strengthen, not weaken, local input designed to give our community some relief.
Michael D. Neidig, LCSW, LCAS
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
Licensed Clinical Addiction Specialist