Mental Health System Is “Overwhelming, Complicated, and Messy.” Wake County Wants to Fix That

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Oct 25, 2017


t’s easy to blame people who are dealing with mental illness. But the road to recovery is more often like a series of paths through a forest, sometimes connecting, often not touching, and too frequently leading the person needing help in the wrong direction.

Brian Klausner, an internist at WakeMed, pointed this out at a recent Wake County Behavioral Health Summit, referencing as an example a woman staying beneath a bridge, self-medicating her psychiatric disorder with heroin.

“It’s easy, it’s lazy, but it’s convenient for us to blame the patient,” Klausner said. The existing system, he added, is “overwhelming, complicated, and messy.”

The meeting, held last Thursday at the Raleigh Convention Center, brought together more than two hundred professionals, government officials, activists, and others. Their goal: to knit into a cohesive whole the array of services to help people in Wake County with mental illness.

As part of that effort, assistant county manager Denise Foreman presented a series of conclusions drawn from studies by SAS, the multibillion-dollar software and data company, and N.C. State.

Handling these cases in a more proactive, cost-effective manner could save significant money, according to outgoing county manager Jim Hartmann and Board of Commissioners chairman Sig Hutchinson. For example, providing supportive housing for a person with mental illness costs far less than caring for him in jail. And it’s great to prescribe treatment for someone, but that person needs reliable transportation to make her appointments.

Analyses by SAS and N.C. State of hundreds of people with mental illnesses treated by Wake County have opened up new possibilities for coordinating care and information, ideally resulting in better health results and lower costs.

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