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Mental Health in Wake County

NAMI Wake County (National Alliance on Mental Illness) has expressed concern over Wake County’s lack of hospital beds for psychiatric patients, and has called on WakeMed to fill this void. Below is my response to Ann Akland, Co-President of NAMI Wake County.

Dear Mrs. Akland:

As you know, over the past three years Wake County Government,  Holly Hill Hospital,  the community, including area hospitals and advocacy groups like yours, have worked to expand services for psychiatric patients. It is heartening that with these recent expansions the majority of psychiatric care needs for Wake County citizens of all ages and payor classes are being met right here at home.

In the past year, 44 new beds have opened at Holly Hill and the county is getting ready to open an additional 16 beds as well as an observation unit for psychiatric care.  These new resources are greatly improving the quality and quantity of behavioral health services in our community.  Our data show that patients of all payor classes (insured, uninsured, Medicare and Medicaid) have comparable access to mental health services in our community.  This access will only continue to improve as the additional expansions currently under construction come on line.  Likewise, we anticipate additional resources and creative approaches will come to Wake County in the future.

WakeMed has also taken many steps to invest in and expand additional services for psychiatric patients.  We take pride in the services we provide mentally ill patients with co-morbidities and in our long-standing strong substance abuse and inpatient liaison programs. We have recently added a third full-time psychiatrist, and a team of emergency department-based behavioral health experts. When WakeMed’s psychiatric patients require transfer to a psychiatric specialty center, the transport often takes place via WakeMed Mobile Critical Care Transport (CCT) service, as opposed to transport by police. CCT units are staffed by a critical care RN, an EMT-Paramedic and an EMT-driver.

As WakeMed is already one of the state’s leading providers of uncompensated care, we do understand directly the complexities and politics of the present healthcare “system” in North Carolina. We work diligently 24/7/365 to provide care, comfort and compassionate attention to hundreds of thousands of patients who need assistance. This said, we also understand that it is not possible to be all things to all people and every organization – certainly including WakeMed — has limits in their ability to fill every gap that every person or organization demands. Recognition of this fact weighs in our strong stand on the need for healthcare reform in America. Without question, there needs to be a fair distribution of the work, expense and demand across all healthcare providers and throughout the public and private sectors of the economy.  Today’s approach, especially as relates to behavioral health services, is broken and must change. More importantly, the nation’s private and public “attitude” must change around viewing psychiatric patients as being different from medical or surgical patients. However, until public policy, shortage of mental health professionals, service funding and cultural expectations shift, it is unlikely that that any one organization can or should be expected to do the work alone. Doing so is neither reasonable, practical nor possible.

We are committed to continuing to work closely with Wake County officials to identify needs and to develop additional solutions for those in need of psychiatric services.  It is our hope that you will join us in helping strengthen our hospital system so we can continue to provide quality care to our entire community.

William K. Atkinson, Ph.D.
President & CEO
WakeMed Health & Hospitals


One thought on “Mental Health in Wake County

  1. Dear Dr. Atkinson,

    Thank you for your response. Yes, it is heartening that Wake County has made such significant progress in expanding psychiatric services for people here in our community. The Wake Commissioners have made mental health a priority for a number of years and we are certainly seeing the results of that with the 44 beds at HHH for poor, uninsured people and with the new facility going up on Sunnybrook Rd. It is also heartening to see the involvement of WakeMed with both WCHS and HHH. The efforts of Dr. Hartye and Amy Blackwell are very much appreciated. The additional professionally trained mental health staff you now have to help move patients through your ED are a great addition. I also appreciate the care you provide for people in your regular med/surg beds who have co occurring psychiatric problems. I’m not really sure what to think about the transport issue. I have witnessed your ambulances dropping off patients at Holly Hill Hospital. The patients I have seen seemed perfectly capable to ride in a regular vehicle, yet they came in with an armed Raleigh Police Officer and two WakeMed staff that appeared to be part of the WakeMed police. It is good to hear that they are really trained EMTs. I’ll take your word for it that this is a more humane way to transport psychiatric patients. What I would really like is to remove the need for transport in most cases. I believe there is a fairly simple way to accomplish obtaining Medicaid beds for short stays. That is for WakeMed to take over the new Wake County 32 bed crisis facility and to operate it under your corporate umbrella. I hope you will consider the idea.
    Ann Akland, CoPresident, NAMI WAke

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