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