Raleigh, N.C. — To keep people with mental health or substance abuse problems out of jails and emergency rooms, the state Department of Health and Human Services rolled out a crisis intervention effort Thursday.
The Crisis Solutions Initiative will involve health care, law enforcement and community groups identifying help for people with mental health and substance abuse issues so they can receive the most effective care.
Each year, an estimated 150,000 visits to emergency departments in North Carolina are related to an acute psychiatric or addictive disorder crisis, officials said. Thirteen percent of patients with a mental health crisis who are treated in an emergency department will return within 30 days, officials said.
"They wait sometimes for days to be seen by a mental health professional, and only then do they begin treatment for their illness or addiction," said Dave Richards, director of the state Division of Mental Health. "That's not the way our hospitals or our system should work. They have done it this way, but actually, they've had no other choice."
National studies also indicate that about 17 percent of people in jail have a serious mental illness, officials said.
DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos singled out Wake County's Wakebrook complex as a model. The joint effort of Wake County EMS, UNC Health Care and law enforcement diverts hundreds of behavioral health patients from jails and emergency rooms every year by bringing them to a crisis center instead.
"We can begin to improve entirely the entire care for our patients while at the same time reducing the burden that is faced right now for law enforcement and for the hospitals," Wos said. "We will get help – the proper help – at the proper place for our citizens."
The initiative doesn't come with any new funding. Wos said DHHS will use existing resources that are already working in different communities.
The agency will track admissions data at emergency rooms to see if the effort is working, she said.