Time to look for ways to solve the problem

Published 2:56 pm Friday, October 20, 2017

North Carolina, like most states, has a multitude of problems, but one that is hovering just out of sight is the lack of treatment facilities for those with mental health issues.

Decades ago, the country went through a period in which the push was to get people out of institutions and redirect the money used for mental health programs in hospitals and inpatient treatment centers to local communities.

These days, that effort has come to haunt emergency departments across the state.

The number of beds in inpatient treatment centers is so small that the average amount of time a patient will wait to get into a facility is 120.4 hours at the state’s three psychiatric hospitals, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. That leaves those in crisis, or the families of those in crisis, two options during that average five-day wait: a five-day stay in an emergency department or take the person who needs immediate help home. Neither is a good choice, especially if the person in crisis is violent or suicidal.

With the decision to deinstitutionalize, the state’s mental health system shifted to what has, unfortunately, become a system that treats mental health emergencies. The first line of treatment is through law enforcement and hospitals — in an emergency situation. Some of the people in that position can be found in the Beaufort County Detention Center, where relatives of those incarcerated on minor charges opt to not bail out a family member because at least in jail, that person will get some treatment.

Community resources, also unfortunately, are lacking, and as the opioid epidemic becomes more and more prevalent, with overdose calls to 911 coming in on a regular basis, the lack of treatment facilities is being felt. The lack becomes a burden on emergency departments and first responders. First responders having access to a greater amount of Narcan — a drug that stops an overdose in its tracks — is, again, only treating the emergency and not the underlying societal problem.

From local governments to state and federal governments, the need is absolute. For as long as the mental health/addiction treatment models remain the same, all are in crisis; the country is in crisis.

It’s time to look past the symptoms and look for ways to solve the problem.