A breakdown of the current funding for behavioral health

Since the Washington County Behavioral Health Board is requesting passage of a levy in November, many people are asking what we do with the funds we currently have. In short, we subsidize prevention, treatment, and recovery programs for children, adolescents, and adults at risk for mental illness and substance use disorders.

EVE, Inc. offers prevention programs to any local school who requests it. Now more than ever it is important to teach our children how to make good choices. If a child makes a good choice of food, for example an apple instead of a Twinkie, the child is more likely to make a good choice when it comes to other behaviors, like smoking or not. Statistics show when families talk to their children about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, those children are 50 percent less likely to experiment with those items.

The Right Path for Washington County also reinforces good choices through dances and swim parties. Dances provide adolescents a chance to have fun amongst their peers, and learn that drugs, alcohol, tobacco, etc. do not have to be present to have fun. Parent and caregiver participation at the swim parties is encouraged. Children who spend time with adults in a healthy surrounding are more likely to make good choices when an adult is not there. This also permits some quality family time together, strengthening family ties. Events like The Right Path Rightditarod are a time for youth, along with adults, to participate in giving back to the community by raising money and receiving donations for the county food pantries.

In the late 1980s, 36 percent of people released from a mental institution here in Ohio became homeless within six months. People who suffer from mental illnesses cannot always participate in the workforce. The board has two apartments available for temporary stays for individuals being discharged from the state hospital system with nowhere else to live. This gives the person shelter while being matched up with other social service agencies in the county to obtain services necessary to meet basic human needs for food, clothing, permanent housing, medical care, personal safety, and income. The board contracts with L&P Services to provide caseworkers to help get the social services in place for the person who has come back to the community.

A sliding fee scale, where the board subsidizes the cost of counseling and other services at L&P Services based on the patient’s income, is still in place but has nearly gone away entirely. The Affordable Care Act made it easier for people to get Medicaid benefits and individuals who are eligible for this program are expected to apply. But individuals forced to buy insurance are finding they cannot afford the copays and deductibles. The state has cut funding to local boards because we supposedly do not need to help pay for services now because of the Affordable Care Act. As a result, the board has less funding available for subsidies and people are dropping out of treatment.

The board also subsidizes services reimbursed by Medicare, which does not cover the full cost of services. We want to engage and keep people in treatment. Rather than have them turned away at L&P Services due to the low Medicare reimbursement, we help by subsidizing the services.

The board also subsidizes crisis services at Marietta Memorial Hospital campuses for individuals with no healthcare coverage. That cost was about $173,000 last year. People without insurance are unlikely to seek out services until they cannot put it off any longer. By then the situation has become worse and the individual or family has nowhere to go for help except the nearest emergency department.

Once a person enters treatment through that means, the board pays for services at our local contract provider, L&P Services. About $150,000 was provided last year for individual and group counseling, case management, and visits for medicine check-ups for prescriptions, renewals, or changes. The caseworkers at L&P Services are expected to seek out other appropriate social services to help an individual. If the board did not offer treatment to people with no healthcare coverage, many would likely end up being a patient in one of the public state run hospitals, the closest one in Athens, at a cost of nearly $570 per day. That money eventually comes out of the board’s budget allocation.

The board funds two residential treatment beds in Oriana House near Reno and up to eight recovery beds in Oxford House in Marietta. This allows residents to live in a safe environment and obtain services locally now, with family, employment, and community more readily available to support recovery.

The board also subsidizes the House of Hope in Marietta, where people with mental health issues can go and be amongst peers. For many of the people who attend, this is the one thing they have to look forward to each week. The opportunity to get out of the home, make friends, socialize, and feel welcome adds to a person’s quality of life. It is a safe place where people can be themselves, without fear of being stigmatized.

Individuals often enter the mental health system with little or no healthcare coverage and no way of accessing services available to others. Helping these individuals stop their downward spiral is what we primarily do with our funds. But there is a higher demand for services than what our funding can provide.

David Browne is executive director of the Washington County Behavioral Health Board. Behavioral Health Matters appears on the Opinion Page on the last Saturday of the month.