News & Observer: Mental health agency says it can’t open crisis center in Raleigh due to funding cut
By Paula A. Specht
July 5, 2017
Leaders of a regional mental health agency say the state’s new spending plan leaves them without enough money to open a crisis center in Raleigh.
Alliance Behavioral Healthcare will get $19 million from the state this year, said spokesman Doug Fuller. That’s $4.9 million less than it received last year.
The organization had planned to open a 16-bed facility for adults in the next nine months at a site it is renovating off of Tryon Road. But now the group has to re-evaluate its plans, said Alliance CEO Rob Robinson.
“Construction was underway,” Robinson said. “This was in an effort to reduce unnecessary (emergency department) admissions and the number of people in jail.”
Mental health advocates say Wake County has lacked the proper resources to help patients with mental health disorders since the state shuttered Dorothea Dix psychiatric hospital near downtown Raleigh in 2010.
A state report recently showed the county needs at least 43 new inpatient beds to treat people with mental illnesses, Robinson said.
Alliance, which is one of seven regional health care management organizations in North Carolina, still plans to move forward with a crisis center in Fuquay-Varina for children ages 18 and younger.
The group spends Medicaid, state and county money to purchase mental health treatment for patients in Wake, Durham, Johnston and Cumberland counties.
Under the new state budget, regional organizations are instructed to spend money they have in reserves to make up for the drop in funding.
Alliance must now use Medicaid savings to make up for the shortfall in funds available for patients who are uninsured or under-insured, Fuller said.
In the meantime, Wake officials say they will look for other ways to fund local mental health services. County Commissioner Greg Ford, who serves on Alliance’s board of directors, said the situation is particularly frustrating because the group already spent money to buy the facility in Raleigh.
“It’s the equivalent of building a school but not having the money to pay for the teachers,” Ford said.
Commissioner Matt Calabria said mental health crisis centers can save taxpayer money and keep some patients out of emergency departments. The number of involuntary commitments in Wake more than doubled from 2011 to 2016, he said, from 5,241 to 12,264.
“People who don’t get the proper kind of care early on are more likely to end up homeless, in jail or in the ER,” Calabria said. “We’ve already seen instances where local emergency departments couldn’t accept any more patients due to overcrowding and had to try to divert them to other options.”