Community-based behavioral health care clinics are having difficulty fulfilling their critically important role. Funding is part of the problem, but so are attitudes.
Low reimbursement rates and high demand for services are creating a vicious circle for organizations trying to help residents while remaining financially viable. Nearly 70 percent of those state organizations are closing, reducing hours, cutting back on services or laying off staff according to Vicker V. DiGravio III, president and CEO of the Natick-based Association for Behavioral Healthcare (ABH) at an Eagle editorial board meeting.
The Pittsfield-based Brien Center for Mental Health Services and Substance Abuse Services is feeling this strain said CEO Christine Macbeth at the Eagle meeting. The center has suffered financial losses in its outpatient services for the past three years, and like its counterparts, has a waiting list for routine appointments. The center has no plans to cut back on services, said Ms. Macbeth, who emphasized the good relationship the center it has with Berkshire Medical Center in providing services.
Mr. DiGravio believes the Baker administration takes the problem seriously, and the ABH head says a reallocation of health care funds at a time when money is tight will help considerably. He and Ms. Macbeth point out that outpatient treatment at specialty care facilities like the Brien Center is more cost-efficient than expensive emergency room treatment. Compounding these issues is that low wages routinely push workers, including those at the Brien Center, into pursuing better-paying jobs elsewhere in the state system or in private practice.
Ms. Macbeth adds that more must be done to eliminate the stigma about mental illness that discourages people from getting treatment. That attitude must change, and outpatient behavioral clinics and their dedicated employees must be given the resources they deserve and need to provide their services to the many who require them.