Cuts hurt youth mental health system

Despite reporter Justin Boron's attempt to portray recent cuts at Serenity Behavioral Health in a favorable light ("Patients gain from cutbacks," March 15), the cuts are another in a long line of cuts that represent the systematic dismantling of the child and adolescent mental health system in this state.

Beginning with former Rep. Robin Williams' looting of the Community Mental Health Center of East Central Georgia (now Serenity), and culminating with the failure of the grant reauthorizing the CARE program at the Medical College of Georgia, it has been one thing after another. For Serenity, it appears that the final blow was the advent of managed care in Medicaid and the failure to modernize its billing system that led to the persistent losses.

With a moratorium on new enrollees in PeachCare, there are few options for area families to obtain mental health services for their children. Last April, three psychiatrists treated children and their families at Serenity. The current plan is to move one of two remaining child psychiatrists at Serenity to a crisis stabilization unit, to be built for $1.8 million. How can one child psychiatrist be expected to treat the number of children that required three psychiatrists less than a year ago?

Unfortunately, the new companies that appear in line to gain from Serenity's cutbacks do not have child and adolescent psychiatrists on their payrolls. This is no surprise, as there is a shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists nationwide.

As for a crisis stabilization unit, there is no need for this here. Crisis stabilization units are typically used in communities that lack sufficient hospital beds. This is not the case in this area, as the beds that exist at the Medical College of Georgia are not being filled regularly, and there are plenty of beds at Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, and Aurora Pavilion in Aiken; $1.8 million would pay for a lot of patients to be seen at Serenity.

Prevention in mental health can lead to decreased morbidity in the future. As the adage goes, "Pay now or pay later." Unfortunately, later in this case means paying for treatment within the confines of the prison system, which will be much more expensive.

(Editor's note: The writer is an assistant professor of pediatric psychiatry of the Medical College of Georgia.)

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