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Mental health levy

Existing services would be available to more people

November 5, 2011
By Evan Bevins (ebevins@mariettatimes.com) , The Marietta Times

Passage of the proposed mental health levy won't bring new services to Washington County, but it would make existing services available to more people - specifically those without insurance.

The majority of the more than $1 million a year that the five-year, 1-mill levy would raise would go to provide counseling, case management, psychiatric services and addiction treatment to county residents who do not have private insurance and are not eligible for Medicare or Medicaid, officials with the Washington County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Board said.

"The only way someone that falls in that pigeonhole can access mental health services is to present at L&P Services or the emergency room as a crisis, that is, they're going to harm themselves or someone else," said David Browne, the board's executive director.

Article Photos

EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
House of Hope members, from left, John Hendershot, Rick Lewis, John Boyd and Allen Townsend work on a memory walk to honor members who have died.

That generally allows the individual to be screened by L&P, see a doctor and get a prescription, Browne said.

"A lot of people think how you treat mental illness is throw medication at them and keep them quiet," he said. "But what kind of life is that?"

The goal is to help someone function and live a fulfilling life, Browne said.

Fact Box

About the levy

Millage: 1 mill.

Duration: Five years.

Amount raised per year: $1,103,505.

Annual cost for the owner of a home valued at $100,000: $30.63.

Where to go for help

Washington County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Board - 374-6990.

L&P Services, 207D Colegate Drive, Marietta - 376-0930.

Tri-County Mental Health and Counseling Services Inc., 809 Farson St., No. 10, Belpre - 423-8095.

Worthington Center, 2515 Washington Blvd., Belpre - 423-4225.

Marietta Memorial Hospital - 374-1400.

Selby General Hospital - 568-2232.

Members of the House of Hope, a prevention effort of the board, talked this week about the importance of regular services.

"I don't know where I'd be if it wasn't for L&P and House of Hope," said John Boyd, a 63-year-old Marietta resident who said he deals with depression and anxiety.

Boyd receives Medicare and benefits beyond that, allowing him to regularly see a psychiatrist through L&P.

Responding only to crisis situations, the board assists about 1,000 uninsured individuals a year.

On the chemical dependency side, the board has enough funding to get someone into a facility to receive treatment, "but not necessarily to the extent to really aid them in recovery," Browne said.

The board served 450 uninsured people in this way in fiscal year 2011.

That's up from 250 in fiscal year 2007. Since then, the board's available funding for uninsured individuals has shrunk by nearly 75 percent.

In fiscal year 2007, the board had nearly $1.5 million remaining after it used state and federal dollars to leverage additional federal money with Medicaid matches. A change in state emphasis to prioritize Medicaid matches has reduced that amount to a little more than $388,000 this year, Browne said.

Browne said treating people before they reach a crisis state makes economic sense because it keeps them out of state hospitals or prison or juvenile centers.

"The taxpayers are (already) paying for it. It's just that they don't see it directly," he said.

Seventy-four of Ohio's 88 counties have mental health levies in place. Previous efforts to pass one in Washington County have been defeated.

Mental health services

The Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Board does not provide services itself, but distributes allocations to providers, like L&P or the state mental hospital in Athens.

Other than an agreement with Marietta Memorial Hospital to cover a portion of crisis services, L&P is the only local agency with which the board contracts for services for the uninsured. A certain amount of days in state hospital beds are prepaid in an effort to control costs, Browne said. If the number is exceeded there is no additional charge, but if it is not met, the state keeps the additional funds.

If the levy passes, $650,000 would go to mental health efforts, opening up programs through L&P to uninsured individuals before they have crisis situations.

Brent Phipps, L&P's CEO, said the company provides diagnostic assessments, individual and group counseling, case management and psychiatry and medication services. While crisis counseling is available regardless of an individual's ability to pay, thanks to funding from the mental health board, the other services are not.

"That's why we're missing this huge population in our county," Phipps said.

L&P receives three or four calls a day from people seeking help who are not eligible, he said.

The state determines the maximum fees providers can charge, Phipps said. An initial assessment of an individual's mental health needs runs about $129 an hour, he said. Individual counseling is about $90 an hour, with group counseling less than $40 an hour. Doctors' services cost even more.

There are no inpatient mental health care options in the county outside of Memorial's geriatric psychiatric unit.

The 13-bed secure unit provides service for seniors 60 and older, as well as adults with psychiatric symptoms that require acute, 24-hour inpatient care. Services are provided regardless of ability to pay, said Jennifer Offenberger, director of marketing and public relations for the Memorial Health System.

The Memorial Health System also includes Selby General Hospital, where outpatient geriatric psychiatric services are offered.

Occasionally, Washington County patients can be sent to Camden-Clark Medical Center's Memorial Campus in Parkersburg. But that option is limited due to potential hurdles with funding crossing state lines and space at the 19-bed facility.

However, Camden-Clark spokesman Greg Smith noted no one is turned away from the hospital's emergency department.

L&P, along with Tri-County Mental Health and Counseling Services and Worthington Center in Belpre, provide only outpatient services.

Tri-County accepts Medicaid and some private insurers. Individuals can pay out of pocket up front at a 20 percent discount but the nonprofit corporation regularly receives calls from uninsured individuals who cannot afford even those rates.

"That's heartbreaking because we can't send them anywhere," said Helen Farrah-McGrail, director of Tri-County's Belpre clinic.

Although the levy funding would not find its way to Tri-County, Farrah-McGrail said she supports it.

"We're wasting a valuable resource when those people don't get treated. Human beings are a valuable resource," she said.

A call to Worthington was not returned.

Chemical dependency

The levy would provide an additional $400,000 for chemical dependency programs.

Those efforts locally suffered a setback in 2009 when Marietta Memorial Hospital closed its chemical dependency unit. The health system cited losses of about $500,000 a year in closing that unit and making other changes to its psychiatric services.

Officials said prior to that, the board was able to negotiate with Memorial for a good rate on detoxification services. Now the best rate they get is from Cambridge Behavioral Health Center, Phipps said.

Reduced board funding means there are only about 30 detox days for local patients at Cambridge for the fiscal year, he said. With the average detox period lasting three to seven days, that doesn't leave room for many patients.

When those days are used up, L&P can't send an uninsured person until the board comes up with more funding.

"We're going to have to maybe turn people away who are wanting help," Phipps said.

While those individuals are waiting, he said, "they're going to probably continue to use because they don't want to go through the withdrawal."

Prevention

The board funds the House of Hope, located across County House Lane from the Washington County Home. For annual dues of $3 a year, individuals diagnosed with mental illnesses can go there four days a week to interact with one another over meals, games and other activities, for the price of a quarter and doing some chores to maintain the facility.

Roger Mayle, a 60-year-old Marietta resident diagnosed with schizophrenia, said bluntly that going to the House of Hope, as he's done regularly for eight years, "keeps me from drinking again."

Marietta resident Dottie Griffin, 57, said she enjoys being around so many people at the House of Hope.

"They make me feel like I am somebody," she said.

Browne said the house is the last thing that would be on the board's chopping block when money is tight.

"It's cheaper and it's better for people than to go to the state mental hospital," he said.

The board currently spends $58,000 a year on House of Hope. That same amount would purchase about 107 days at a state mental hospital.

Lower Salem resident John Hendershot, 64, said coming to House of Hope helped him recover from his own mental illness and he continues to go there, helping with various projects. He noted that people do not need to have Medicaid or insurance to utilize the house.

"Once they're diagnosed with mental illness, they can come here and enjoy the benefits," he said.

While the bulk of the levy funding would go to assisting the uninsured, $50,000 will be dedicated to House of Hope and the Right Path for Washington County, said Van Olnhausen, board treasurer and chairman of the levy committee. Both of those are viewed as prevention programs.

The board currently directs the $30,000 it receives from the Washington County Commission to the Right Path, an organization dedicated to promoting healthy youth development through education and providing safe, drug- and alcohol-free activities. The Right Path's sole employee, director Cathy Harper, works out of the mental health board office.

"The way to help young people is to prevent them from becoming involved with drugs and alcohol," Olnhausen said.

 
 
 

 

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