Share This Page

Mental health treatment changing in Westmoreland

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.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.