Mental Health Advocates Demand More Psychiatric Beds In North Carolina

Mental health advocates are calling attention to what they see as a need for more psychiatric beds in North Carolina.

Indy Week reports that "WakeMed Health & Hospitals is the 800-pound gorilla of health care in Wake County." In addition, it's easily the county's biggest health organization and, its leadership argues, the hardest-working. But when WakeMed went to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services this month for approval to add to its surgical and outpatient diagnostic facilities, the meeting was picketed by members of the Wake County chapter of NAMI, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill." The group complained that WakeMed "isn't providing enough services for the mentally ill, particularly with respect to establishing a designated psychiatric unit."

WakeMed CEO Bill Atkinson said "he shares the group's frustrations about the ragged state of mental health care in North Carolina and nationally. But singling out WakeMed for criticism was 'insulting and ridiculous.' Behind the flare-up is what Atkinson calls an 'antiquated' federal law that prevents stand-alone psychiatric hospitals from billing Medicaid for mental health services. Only medical/surgical hospitals can do so -- if they have a designated psychiatric unit." Wake-NAMI says the problem is that none of the county's three medical/surgical hospitals has "a designated psychiatric unit and thus can't accept patients who are on Medicaid" (Geary, 8/26).

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