01/26/07 — Agencies: Patients can't find local care

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Agencies: Patients can't find local care

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on January 26, 2007 1:51 PM

Changes in laws providing mental health services have created problems across a wide spectrum of the community, the leaders of a number of government agencies and support organizations said Thursday at a meeting held at the Wayne County Public Library.

Where people in Wayne, Duplin, Sampson and Lenoir counties with mental health problems once could turn to a single source for help, they now are confronted with more than 150 private providers, said Ken Jones, the director of Eastpointe, which sponsored the meeting.

Eastpointe is a referral and case management provider that works for the four counties.

After local mental health centers got out of clinical psychology, many of their former patients grew disillusioned, he said, and stopped their treatments and medication. Now they are showing up at hospitals, jails and on the streets, Jones said, creating problems for a wide variety of agencies, such as law enforcement, health departments, medical emergency services and schools.

About 30 representatives of the agencies and organizations attended the meeting. Jones called their organizations "stakeholders" in the mental health issue, noting that the effects of the government's withdrawal from more active participation in providing mental health services falls on them.

The main problem, Jones said, is that there are not enough psychiatrists in the four-county area to provide medication to people with severe mental health challenges.

He said Eastpointe has retained two full-time psychiatrists and four part-time psychiatrists to loan out to counseling centers, but that more are needed.

An educator told him children with behavior problems are being placed back into the classrooms from which they had been removed for counseling and treatment, he said. Former prison inmates with mental problems who once were helped through psychiatric hospitals are now seeking entry to adult care homes in hopes of obtaining the proper treatment and medication.

Jones said he expects state legislators to address the problem. But the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better, Cherry Hospital Director Jack St. Clair said.

St. Clair said it would help to raise the standards and level of training at the adult-care homes and to form a mobile crisis unit that could respond to emergencies. He said there is a need for intensive home support "on the front end."

Jones said many people with mental health or substance abuse problems are in need of a place to live temporarily, along with counseling and medical help. But with few options, some are becoming desperate, he said.

"They threaten to kill (themselves) to get into Cherry," Jones said.

Dr. Jonathan Barnes said most people he commits to Cherry have substance abuse problems and are homeless.

"They're finding a way to make money every day, by prostitution, spreading disease in the community or selling drugs. Not all, but most, of the homeless have substance abuse problems," Barnes said. "It does not need to be a flop house. It needs to be a place that points them to rehabilitation, not just three hots and a cot."

Jones said Eastpointe will continue to provide as much help as possible. Each situation is unique, he said, but he added officials will continue to work with as many patients as they can while waiting to see what lawmakers will do to help.