Chesterton Tribune

County mental health care centers preparing for new long term patients in wake of state cuts

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Porter County mental health officials are in the early stages of working with state agencies to shift patients who either are mentally retarded/developmentally disabled or who have chronic addictions from state hospitals into community-based care.

The Indiana Family and Social Services Administration announced last month it will be decreasing the number of beds in the six state psychiatric hospitals now through March 2011 for specific patient populations. In doing so, the FSSA hopes to increase and promote access to community-based care for those individuals and also be able to save the state close to $15 million a year.

The county’s largest mental health resource provider, Porter Starke Services, will assist with the transition. Aileen Wehren, vice-president of systems administrations at Porter Starke, said it is hard to anticipate what the outcomes may be for some of the cases, but the organization supports allowing the patients to be released from the state hospitals who have been there for an extended period of time.

Wehren said the state recently sent out a Request for Proposals to establish an addictions treatment program that would take statewide referrals. The programs would allocate funds to support residential treatment option for centers of up to sixty beds which Porter Starke would be able to refer into.

The proposals were due on July 28 and currently it is not known who might be given that contract, said Wehren, who also said it is possible the treatment centers could be split into two 30-bed providers.

“I do know they intend to fill that gap with a community based residential provider,” said Wehren, who also thinks the transition should not affect the current services available at Porter Starke. “Instead of referring to the state, wel‘orl refer to this other group.”

She said having a residential alternative is necessary for those battling addictions because they need to be placed in a more regulated structure to get that treatment process started.

The FSSA has said it will not release patients or clients until they are able to find a suitable environment to place them in.

For the MR/DD group, Wehren said there are many providers such as Opportunity Enterprises who are accustomed to working and developing community-based support for the individuals with those disabilities who will be interested in transferring those individuals back into the community or closer to home.

The MR/DD patients will be considered individually on a case-by-case basis where the service workers will need to figure what level of support is necessary.

Wehren said moving the developmentally disabled and the chronic addictions populations out of hospitals will shift the beds for patients who have more serious mental illnesses and the state hospitals are not forecasting changes in services or a decrease in the number of beds for the psychiatric patients.

One thing Werhen would like would to see offered is more affordable housing units for these individuals to make the transition much easier since many of them are on very-limited to no income. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, sometimes lends funding, but occasionally their priorities do not match with community-based systems like Porter Starke, she said.

Executive Director of Mental Health America of Porter County Mary Hodson said her organization wishes to be a provider or resource in the transition for those involved with community-based care. She said it is important not to rush the plan because a hastened change can have a "horrendous" impact on the individuals‘ chances for recovery.

Hodson said she is not opposed to the plan but advocates that the state mental health agencies take their time. “If it takes an extra month or longer, take it,” she said. “We need to keep asking questions. I really believe in being proactive in advance.”

Some of the questions Hodson is recommending mental health advocates to ask are: Is this the best service for this individual? Could this person be best served in the community by programs that are available to them? Where are the changes necessary?

Hodson said developing an individualized wellness recovery action plan with the patient and the caretakers is extremely important so they all can identify triggers and know what course of action to take if the patient comes into such a situation where there is a trigger.

“Recovery or integrating back into the community is possible for everyone but there are different levels for each person,” she said.

Hodson said another obstacle in integrating mentally disabled or mentally ill individuals into the community includes overcoming the stigma that is present in society.

“Unfortunately, people only pick up on the negative rather than the positive aspects. They only seem to hear about the worst-case scenarios,” she said.

To combat the stigma, the Mental Health of America organization will be instituting a number of ways to educate the public about mental illness, putting the recovery processes in a positive light. Mental health advocates will begin anti-stigma campaign that will reach out through fundraisers and the local media.

“It’s going to take an entire community to work together,” said Hodson. “I look at the positive and that is really important.”

Hodson also said a constant communication between local and state-level mental health agencies will be needed in order for the transition to be a success.

Mental Health of America of Porter County provides emergency funding for medication to those with mental illness. The agency also announced they will be expanding their daytime opportunities. The center is located at 402 Indiana Ave. in Valparaiso, two blocks east of the Porter County Administration Building.

The FSSA released a statement last month saying the new plan places approximately 30 percent of state hospital patients to be released into communities and a redeployment of about 100 beds for patients with serious mental illnesses.

The plan, however, does include a number of psychiatric staff layoffs in the six hospitals. The FSSA is estimating 106 employees will be laid off at the Richmond State Hospital while another 355 jobs will be lost at Logansport State Hospital.



Posted 8/4/2010