Letter: Behavioral health care: We can do better than this

October 2, 2015
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Imagine that your 19-year-old son is having an acute mental health crisis that requires hospitalization. He has thoughts of harming himself, or members of your family. His thinking is disturbed so he believes you’re the enemy.

He lives in your home. You provide him with health insurance and will pay the bills for his care over the next several months. You will be the one to make sure he gets to his doctor’s appointments, gets what he needs to finish schoolwork when he comes home, and so on.

But when your son enters the hospital, he refuses to allow the staff to provide you with any information about his care. You can’t know the diagnosis, how he’s doing, the treatment plan, or even when the hospital staff is planning to discharge him. You’re not allowed to visit. You’re completely shut out.

Now imagine this parent is your employee. How productive will he or she be at the workplace with this kind of life distraction and drama unfolding?

We can do better than this.

Thanks to the Grand Rapids Business Journal for highlighting the need for improved access to behavioral health care in Carole Valade’s Aug. 7 editorial, “Mental health illness deserves the same support as cancer.”

There are few health care situations more desperate than when a loved one suffers from a mental illness. But even though the effectiveness of our treatment models are the best in history, disturbing gaps remain in our behavioral health system that limits access to the most effective care for citizens of Michigan.

Fortunately, there is serious bipartisan momentum and agreement in Washington, D.C., about ways to fix the system. For example, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (HR 2646) offers common-sense solutions to persistent problems in the mental health system. This bill gives health care professionals flexibility to communicate select clinical information to caregivers in certain situations.

This comprehensive legislation also incentivizes providers and researchers to develop programs that are best practice, evidenced-based and can pass scientific muster. It supports the development of care providers to fill some of the huge gaps that exist today — gaps that can cause three-month waiting lists for care, and emergency rooms boarding persons in psychiatric crisis for hours or even days. In addition, it prioritizes research and strategies on mental health issues that cause the greatest risk of harm to self, others and children.

While national in scope, the bill would support local West Michigan solutions to problems that are unique to West Michigan — problems that decrease our quality of life, and create unnecessary health care costs and present challenges in our workplaces.

Congressman Bill Huizenga, R-Michigan, understands these local issues and is helping champion comprehensive mental health reform on the national level. Rep. Huizenga recently became a co-sponsor to the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act and is diligently working to make sure the local, West Michigan perspective is shared and helps inform national policy reform.

Passage of the act will reduce the number of headlines we see linking mental illness to tragic events, and will increase the headlines describing breakthroughs of care, access and innovations, and improved quality of life in West Michigan. Let’s support our national legislators who are working hard to find consensus around common-sense solutions to this fixable problem of inadequate access to quality behavioral health services.

Mark Eastburg
President and CEO
Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services

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