By Rochelle Williams
State officials say they are transforming the mental health system because people have demanded the change for years.
“Consumers wanted this,” said state Health and Human Services Secretary Carmen Hooker Odom. “They wanted us to break down the boxes that providers have put them in. They wanted choices in how they are treated.”
Odom spoke about mental health reform Thursday during a two-hour question-and-answer session involving state officials, consumers, therapists and care providers.
About 200 people attended the forum at the Cumberland County Mental Health Center on Executive Place.
State Rep. Rick Glazier was the moderator.
Mike Moseley, director of the state Mental Health Division, told the group that reform will shift mental health services out of large government clinics and into the offices of private providers.
The change will give consumers more choice when they seek treatment and will reduce inefficiency and overspending in bloated local centers, Odom said.
The government will stop paying local mental health centers to treat patients and will begin reimbursing private providers. Streamlined local centers will oversee services.
But some private providers at the forum seemed frustrated with the county enrollment process that allows them to deliver services and to get reimbursed by the government.
Many people at the forum worried that consumers will fall through the cracks as county providers stop treating patients and private providers take on the services.
On Thursday, the Cumberland County Mental Health Center had enrolled only 30 private providers, said Debbie Jenkins. Jenkins is director of Child and Family Services for Mental Health.
Jenkins said there aren’t enough private providers in the area to take over all of the services the county office has provided.
Odom said, “I would be interested if the providers in the room feel like they have been given an opportunity to be endorsed.”
Odom said the county center needs to work harder to sign up private providers.
Maria Dockery said she lost her case manager at the mental health center but hasn’t figured out how to sign up with a private provider.
“I understand about the improvements for the future that you are trying to make,” Dockery said. “But I am worried about now. I do not feel mentally taken care off.”
Consumers should not experience gaps in service, Odom said. She said the county office can apply for a waiver to continue providing services if there aren’t enough private providers in Cumberland County.
“Mental health reform will be challenging, disruptive and scary,” Odom said.
She said the changes will create better choices for patients.
“When we talk about transforming the system, everyone pines for the good old days,” Odom said. “But it is important to remember that there were no good old days.”
Staff photoby Stephanie Bruce
Monday, March 27, 2006
By Rochelle Williams
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