Special Report: "Loaded Issue," mental health funding
POSTED: Monday, February 10, 2014 - 11:45pm
UPDATED: Friday, March 28, 2014 - 6:36pm
TYLER, TEXAS (KETK) — Many people believe gun control will solve the string mass shootings and other crime, but it is gun control or the untreated?
Here in Texas, the land of "God and Guns" is taking a step forward on this loaded issue.
"I think since Sandy Hook other tragedies, I think the government is starting to realize that mental health services actually require more attention,” said President Dr. Kirk Calhoun of UT Health Northeast.
While some politicians think gun control is the answer, the experts we talked to could not disagree more. "I personally believe gun control will not solve our problems I believe the real issue is mental health problems,” said Texas Senator (R) District 1, Kevin Eltife.
Director of Forensics, Valerie Holcomb at the Andrews Center agrees."We really need to focus our resources on that to prevent these things from happening.”
Licensed Therapist, Dr. Wade French counsels East Texans who suffer from mental disorders and illnesses. “The big issue right now with the gun stuff is strengthening the mental health side of this to be able to try to identify people that have significant mental illnesses and try to figure out a way to prohibit them from having access to firm arms and that's another big cost.”
“Mental health funding has been short changed for such a long time,” said Dr. Calhoun.
President Dr. Kirk Calhoun of UT Health Northeast serves on the Texas Department of State Health Board and tells us there are thousands of East Texans untreated for mental illnesses. We're told smith and Gregg County are the two largest counties in East Texas, which take the majority of mental health patients. “Our state has put an unsubstantial investment in approving mental health services," said Dr. Calhoun.
Last legislation Texas lawmakers added millions of dollars to the mental health system, I'm here at the Gregg County Courthouse where Judge Bill Stoudt says, mental illness is a serious problem here in East Texas, we need the funding, resources and to bring awareness.
"We are still behind the curve in what needs to be done,” said Stoudt.State Senator of District 1, Kevin Eltife says, Texas Politicans looked at all areas where funding could go and find that mental health is high on the list. "The legislature added $250-million to our budget last session."
The National Alliance of Mental Illness reports, Texas had cut millions from their budgets for mental health in recent years, now some lawmakers see the demand.
Judge Stoudt says, mental health covers a wide range of mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, more serious illnesses; panic disorder, post-traumatic stress, phobias, bipolar disorder, psychotic disorders and schizophrenia.
“Something traumatic in their life that's really stuck in their brain and it's starting to eat away at them,” said Stoudt. He says children and adults who are violent to themselves and others need to be managed before they become worse.
We visited the Andrews the Centers and spoke with two patients with schizophrenia who've been in jail, hospitals and are now in group- recovery. "I developed Schizophrenia from my childhood," said Kendrick Moss, Andrews Center patient.
Kendrick shared his personal experience. "I hear voices, and it's hard on me, like somebody over your shoulder just telling you what to do all the time." He says, “This is a great place to be, they help you with problems when you're feeling down."
"For me I always act normal, I don't know how they gave me the case of the case to be schizophrenic, the pills must be working but they couldn't work if we're still in a terrible situation,” said Sandra Fillinghim, Andrews Center patient. Moss and Fillinghim both tell us they feel safe now.
Psychiatrist Dr. Joseph Aricso tells us, there's more to treatment than medication and there's a definite shortage of in-patient facilities. "Mental health was a bad word, when you had mental issue you were treated as somebody that was dangerous violent and terrible person and young people need to think of it as if you're sick go to the doctor.” Dr. Arisco says, with the stigma people refuse to get help and families fail to recognize the one's who are hurting.
Judge Stoudt went through mental health training and tells us what it feels like to have Schizophrenia. “You put on these goggles and you put on these ear phones and it's a virtual reality of someone trying to go to a job and they think someone is talking about them.”
He adds, "There's more people seeking mental health treatments than we have spaces and beds to treat them, then it boils down to... we have to go look at other places outside the region for this type of help which cost money."
Plus, it can take up to 4-6 months just to see a mental health professional and cost more than $100 per visit. "If they have insurance that's one issue, but the majority of people with mental health don't have insurance and a large majority of them are indigent,” said Stoudt.
Judge Stoudt says, then that cost falls upon the county and the state-then they both share the burden. We're told there’s one benefit of the 'Affordable Care Act’ for 2014, which is, mental health services will be affordable.
"We've got to have place to evaluate their issues, have another location by which they can be treated and housed," said Stoudt.
"We find our jails over burdened with people with mental health problems, again we find our emergency rooms overburdened with people with mental health problems," said Dr. Calhoun.
"The jail cost for people with a mental illness is anywhere from 80-150 dollars a day, and we can treat them in the community for 11 dollars,” said Holcomb.
"Get them out of the criminal justice system where they are so expensive to the tax payer and get them into a less costly setting," said Dr. Calhoun.
Dr. Calhoun brings another concern to the table that needs more attention, which is East Texas veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, he says they need all the help they can get.
"If we don't get a handle on those mental health needs it will bankrupt our healthcare system," said Calhoun.
UT Health Northeast is collaborating with other mental health care providers in Smith and Gregg County. "We are using psychologist side by side, with the primary care,” said Dr. Calhoun.
We're told treatment needs to be dealt with long-term not short-term and not depending on psychotropic drugs, the focus needs to be therapy and recovery.
"I'm telling you, it's money well spent, it's the most deficient way to use tax dollars to help this individuals at an early stage,” said Eltife.
"I’m confident that we are going to see some good results from our increased funding that our legislature has provided," said Calhoun.
He says, if the mental health system can demonstrate good results then more funding can be added. "If we can manage the mental health problems that exist out there then we can drive down our Medicaid and Medicare costs and other associated health care.”