Mental-health ‘reform’ failing, report says

North Carolina’s effort to treat more mentally-ill people in their own communities and fewer in the state’s four psychiatric hospitals was ill-conceived and has been poorly run and wasted at least $400 million, The News and Observer in Raleigh reported.

A six-month investigation by the newspaper said providers out to make a profit had replaced local governments forced to stop offering treatment.

Employing mainly high school graduates, not licensed professionals, those providers in a few months were charging $50 million a month for the community-support program, over 10 times what the state had expected, the newspaper said.

The state Department of Health and Human Services was responsible for carrying out carrying out the overhaul of the mental-health treatment program, the newspaper said.

For six years, that department was led by Carmen Hooker Odom, who was appointed by Gov. Mike Easley and now is president of the Milbank Memorial Fund, an endowed operating foundation that supports analysis, study and research on health-policy issues.

In an opinion column, John Drescher, executive editor of The News & Observer, said Easley ultimately was responsible for managing the initiative but now says his administration opposed the 2001 changes enacted by state lawmakers.

Drescher says Easley refused to talk to the newspaper for its report, even though he did find time to appear on the public TV show, “The Woodwright’s Shop.”

Noting that Easley said at a news conference in December that the state simply was the banker for the program, providing money for providers to deliver mental-health services, Drescher said Easley was wrong.

“His administration set the rules for the new program,” Drescher wrote. “It set the reimbursement rates. It had the responsibility to set and force standards.”

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