I-Team: Caring for mental health in Louisiana - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

I-Team: Caring for mental health in Louisiana

Posted: Updated: May 15, 2013 09:55 PM
BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) -

Mental health officials in Louisiana have slashed budgets and reduced the number of psychiatric beds, but say despite that, they've increased their mental health services.

"I wouldn't want anyone to go through what I go through, nobody," said a mother whose identity was concealed.

The woman's son was diagnosed with bipolar and paranoid schizophrenia about 30 years ago. She asked to protect her identity to keep her son from losing his temper in case he sees this report.

She said a bitter divorce decades ago set him off. Now, one minute he's laughing and talking. Then the next, she doesn't know how to control him.

"He often threatens to kill himself. He wanted the gun so that he could blow his brain out in front of me," she explained.

She's desperate for help and said she's been trying to get him into a facility for more than 20 years now. But every time she takes him, the mother said he stays for two to three days, or a week at the most, and he's sent home.

"They give him medicine and it works for a while, then it doesn't work anymore and they have to keep changing medicine, and that's what's been happening over a period of years, but he hasn't gotten any better," said the mother.

"It is definitely more about the money than it is the patient," said Amy St. Germain, who worked at Earl K. Long for 11 years before it recently shut down.

In 2010, the hospital opened a mental health emergency room where St. Germain was the head nurse.

"We do have an increase for mental health in our area, in the Baton Rouge area. After Katrina, a lot of that population from more south Louisiana, the New Orleans area, came here and when they did, they didn't relocate back. They stayed here. In the last four years, there were major cuts in the number of beds at our state hospitals," St. Germain added.

According to the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH), the number of all beds, including acute, intermediate and child and adolescent beds in state hospitals, has dropped since 2008 with a sharp decline between 2010 and 2011.

"We actually have tons of capacity in in-patient beds, whereas before you might wait in an emergency room for a bed, that rarely happens anymore," said DHH Interim Secretary Kathy Kleibert.

Kleibert said even though it may seem like the number of psychiatric beds has been reduced, the total number of beds currently in the state for psychiatric needs has actually increased.

She credits that to a state partnership with a company called Magellan. That allows state hospitals, whose beds have been reduced, to branch out and use private clinics and free-standing hospitals for their beds.

Since that partnership, in addition to the state beds, the total number of available beds through private clinics and free-standing hospitals for 2012 is 2,589. That's nearly four times the 669 beds the state offered in the same year.

Plus, Medicaid is now being accepted at those clinics and hospitals for psychiatric needs. It's also why DHH is taking out dollars from its general fund and putting more towards Medicaid. Kleibert said in the short term it looks like budget cuts.

But long term, "There's been over a 30 percent increase over the past five years,"she explained.

DHH's total budget for the past five years has slightly changed every year since 2008, but there was a dramatic increase for the 2013 budget, an additional $181 million. Kleibert said that's because of a federal match.

The has been a steady decline in funds to the Office of Behavioral Health (OBH) and the complete opposite for Medicaid dollars. For every 40 cents the state puts into the Medicaid budget, the federal government puts in 60 cents and the 2013 budget is the first full year the benefits of that partnership are visible.

Kleibert said DHH has learned to do more with less.

"DHH has had significant reductions in their state general funds, so they have been hit hard, but the way we've done it is through looking at where our priorities are," said Kleibert.

Those priorities are keeping services, not jobs. In fact, since 2000, the number of jobs at DHH has been slashed in half and next year, even more are expected to lose their jobs.

Even though Kleibert said they're trying to keep up with the demand for the number of beds and clinics, Congressman Bill Cassidy, R-LA, said otherwise - not only for Louisiana, but for everyone.

"Nationwide, there is a shortage of mental health facilities," said Cassidy. "It is such an under-appreciated issue, which touches just about everybody."

Cassidy said there are services available but the problem is a lack of coordination between local, state and federal governments to provide those services adequately. For someone who's worked front and center with the issue, St. Germain agrees the state needs coordination for a patient's well-being.

"Recently, they have just decided instead of treating the patient the way the patient needs to be treated, in an individual basis, is to shove them here or shove them there and not treat what is going on with the patient," said St. Germain.

That coordination is what the mother is praying for because while officials try to iron out the logistics, she feels trapped in the middle.

"They deserve some help before they go off the deep end and commit crimes. They deserve some help," said the mother.

Anyone needing access to any mental health services in the state can call a 24-hour hotline at 1-800-424-4399.

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