Mental health reform rapes taxpayers

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 3, 2008

As a side job, I’m thinking of opening-up my own crisis telephone line. It’s getting to the point lately that my phone here at the office rings constantly from where I listen, very patiently, to complaints over broad realm of subjects.

I don’t mind listening and often times I’ll even try to conger-up a few wise words of advice. In some of the extreme cases, I’ll even go as far as to seek answers from those in authority over a particular subject. Who knows, there just might be a good story waiting just around the corner.

However, in a few extremely isolated cases, callers will cause my blood pressure to rise. One in particular was extremely upset over the fact that the News & Observer, a Raleigh-based newspaper, was lowering the boom on privatized mental health outlets for misusing state and federal funds. The N&O is publishing a series entitled “Mental Disorder: The Failure of Reform.” It looks deep into how sweeping changes made by the state in 2001 in regards to taking mental health care and placing it into the hands of for-profit companies has backfired.

The caller said these types of companies are indeed providing a valuable service to their communities by offering local programs designed to ease the burden on the state’s mental hospitals.

However, the privatization of mental health runs much deeper.

According to the N&O series, the cost of caring for the mentally ill has more than doubled, now standing at $1.5 billion a year. Standing at the top of this fiasco was the Community Support Program. Apparently, it has nothing to do with mental health reform. It’s estimated the cost of this program is $50 million a month, more than 10 times what the state expected.

To prove how out of touch this program is with actually providing mental health care, the N&O documented cases where providers, where the majority of their workers have no formal training in the field of mental health care, took some clients to movies or shopping, charging taxpayers $61 an hour. One example showed a Durham based provider spending five hours with a 13-year-old girl, asking about her day at school and assisting with her homework. The worker, called a paraprofessional, wrote that &uot;While [the child] was reviewing the vocabulary word, Paraprofessional went to the store for [the child’s] mother.&uot; For that session, the company was paid $305.

In the meantime, some seriously ill people had to do without treatment. Services that were more likely to help them avoid hospitalization were in short supply, the N&O reported, adding that hundreds of providers have abused the system, charging for services that were unnecessary or were not performed.

Now the state is asking those providers to pay back some of that money, $59 million to be exact. A government review last fall of more than 12,000 people receiving a rapidly expanding community service indicated that hundreds of millions of dollars had been wasted. That review said 89 percent of the treatment was medically unnecessary or given in the wrong amount.

Some of those mental health providers are right here in the Roanoke-Chowan area. I have a copy of their amounts owned to the state. That figure is appalling….nearly two and one-half million dollars ($2,385,507).

It’s no wonder that private mental health companies are sprouting up all over the local landscape as well as the state. Apparently, it’s a lucrative business.

But this all goes back to the perception of free money. These companies operate off state and federal (Medicare/Medicaid) money. They are under the assumption that it’s no big deal because the government is paying for it all. What they fail to remember is the bankroll our government operates on comes from our taxes.

If you stop and really think about this issue, we, as a society, have perhaps ruined the lives of our friends and neighbors. Over a period of decades, we have corrupted their minds, making them believe that life – at least how they envision it – is nothing more than a free ride. But yet we continue to vote for politicians who make such brain dead decisions such as mental health reform and then act surprised when the system is abused.