It’s five times more expensive to care for people with mental illness in a hospital than in the community, so it makes financial sense that the governor’s proposed budget contains more money for a model mental health program designed to keep people out of hospitals.
When individuals or families face a mental health crisis in and around Charlottesville, help is just a phone call away. Region Ten’s Emergency Services are available 24/7. Patients with serious depression, schizophrenia and other mental illness are welcomed at the community mental health center
“Nobody should be languishing in emergency rooms. I don’t think people should have to be driven to a hospital that’s two and a half hours away to get services. I don’t think that’s good care either,” says Buzz Barnett, Emergency Services Director.
Two-thirds of patients who come in will be hospitalized, but a third can be cared for at Region Ten’s Wellness Recovery Center – a homey setting where they stay voluntarily.
“They can’t take the more acute kind of situations where somebody is imminently dangerous and might run off. It’s not a locked facility, but if we can get people early on in terms of when they’re starting to deteriorate, the success is really remarkable.”
Then, they may be referred to Region Ten’s Program of Assertive Community Treatment or PACT where a team of psychiatric nurses, clinicians and a psychiatrist provide the support people need to live in the community.
The program’s director, Donna Dean, says PACT can serve just eighty people at a time to assure that no one falls thru the cracks. “We really get time to develop close relationships with the clients we work with, and they know they have a team that they get to know really well that’s surrounding them with support. I think they begin to just trust us -- so then trust the treatment.”
And should people in PACT need more intensive care from time to time, Barnett says hospitals are willing to take them. “It’s a lot easier to find a bed for them, because the hospitals know that the person has a psychiatrist, they have a place to live, they have services that are available to them when they get out of the hospital.”
On the other hand, he says, there’s a reluctance to admit someone who has no safety net.
“The person that needs to be hospitalized may have complicated medical problems. They may not have a place to go and live when they get out of the hospital, so hospitals are concerned they’ll get stuck with the person.”
Less than half of the community mental health programs in Virginia offer PACT, but Dean and Barnett hope the legislature will provide more funds so services can be expanded statewide.