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Mental health treatment changing in Westmoreland

By Richard Gazarik
Friday, Oct. 30, 2009
 

In the future, mental health services in Westmoreland County will be geared to treating people within the community rather than in hospitals.

But the question remains as to how the county will pay for those services in a cash-strapped economy and tight state budget.

Kathy Wohlgemuth, director of the Westmoreland County MH/MR program, told a group of mental health workers and agency directors Thursday that providers need to find more cost-effective ways to treat the mentally ill because government funding has not kept pace with costs.

The program about the future of mental health services in the county was held at the Four Points Sheraton and featured Estelle B. Richman, state secretary of Public Welfare. It was sponsored by Mental Health America of Westmoreland County.

For example, Wohlgemuth said clients will be housed in apartments rather than in group homes because rentals cost less. There are plans to expand outpatient clinics to the county's 17 school districts.

How the county will pay for more community-based services is an issue, said Donald Goughler, president of Family Services of Western Pennsylvania.

Goughler said services are more readily available, but "I'm worried about the future of mental health service delivery."

He said payments do not cover treatment costs, and that is creating stress on the system. Psychiatric services are reimbursed for only three-fourths of the actual costs, he noted.

In the long run, Goughler said, outpatient services may not be able to continue with current funding levels.

"That funding mindset does not meet needs," he said. "The financial system has fallen too far over the past decade."

Richman said Westmoreland is a "model county, a solid system," but care providers no longer can accept less than "concrete outcomes. Now is the time to review programs and ask, 'Are we getting our money's worth?' "

Edna McCutcheon, CEO of Torrance State Hospital in Derry Township, said her vision of mental health services in the future is that every mentally ill person gets the care they need while living in the community.

She said the number of patients at Torrance, a public psychiatric hospital, has been decreasing as patients are discharged for care in community-based treatment programs.

"No one is a lifer," McCutcheon said. "Everyone has a life."

Among the new programs implemented at Torrance through Mental Health America of Westmoreland County is peer mentoring. John Kung, who has a mental illness, helps patients at Torrance to prepare for life outside the hospital.

Judy Welty, clinical coordinator of the child and adolescent inpatient unit at Excela Health/Latrobe, said the recidivism rate for mentally ill children is "very high," so Excela plans to create a clinic where physicians can send children for evaluation.

Welty said those plans include expanding the clinics to schools. "If we're going to educate people, we need to take our programs to the community," she said.

Excela Health cut outpatient services last summer. The system continues to operates partial hospitalization, crisis intervention and school therapy programs; the Clozaril clinic; and after-care programs for patients discharged from state hospitals, as well as an 11-bed program in Latrobe and a 32-bed unit in Greensburg.

 

 
 


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