Forum will examine the mental health system

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comMarch 25, 2013 

For people with family members who are struggling with mental illness, the treatment options and system for delivering care is often difficult to understand as well as navigate, officials and advocates agree.

For example, people with private insurance have fewer options when it comes to mental health care because of policy constraints, a lack of psychiatrists and limited access to county services.

The county's Department of Mental Health is designed to primarily serve the Medi-Cal population, said Sharon Jones, a Mental Health Services Act coordinator. However, depending on the severity of the situation, the department might be able to provide care.

As a result, families often don't know where to turn when it comes to getting the resources they need to help a loved one get care, officials acknowledge.

The National Alliance on Mental Health Illness Merced County has been organizing monthly forums to help people better understand this complex system and improve access to care.

On Wednesday, it will host a forum, "When it All Falls Through the Cracks," which is part five in a series, "Navigating the Mental Health Care System."

Limited number

Janet Morita, a NAMI member, said families with private insurance sometimes have a tough time getting the services they need because there's a limited number of psychiatrists in town to take those on private insurance.

"Setting up an appointment sometimes takes a little bit of time," said Morita, who also is a member of Mental Health Services Act Ongoing Planning Council.

And that's not the only challenge they face.

If a non-Medi-Cal patient was in a crisis and was taken to the Department of Mental Health's Marie Green Psychiatric Center, the patient would only be admitted if he was harming himself or his family, Morita said. And he would only remain at the center until he was stabilized, she added.

A Medi-Cal patient would have to meet the same criteria, but he would have a greater chance of being admitted, Morita said.

The Medi-Cal population is the Department of Mental Health's priority, Jones explained.

Families who have cases that have fallen through the cracks will share their stories on Wednesday night, Morita said. Some members of the Mental Health Services Act's Ongoing Planning Council will attend the forum to see if there's way to expand services to the non-Medi-Cal population.

"It opens up the door for discussion," Morita said. "We want people to recognize this problem so people can deal with it."

The Mental Health Services Act was established to help bridge that gap for the unserved and underserved, said Jones, who will also attend Wednesday's forum. She said the department already offers some programs through the act to people who are not on Medi-Cal.

Manuel Jimenez, director of the county's Department of Mental Health, also has established collaborations with other agencies in the community to help address the need for more care, Jones said.

There are also some families with adult children on disability who might not realize they may qualify for Medi-Cal, Morita said.

Those who want to learn more about the system are welcome to attend the forum, she said. "It's open for people to join in and have a voice," she added.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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