As the nation's health-care system suffers a Chernobyl-style meltdown, communities should turn to community mental health centers as a less-costly alternative to hospitals.
That was the message delivered by a national advocate for community mental health centers to city and county leaders at a luncheon Monday.
As in most cities, local residents face skyrocketing costs that threaten the availability of health care, said Charles Ray, executive director of the National Council of Community Mental Health Centers, a Maryland-based advocacy group.
"Employers critical to the livelihood of Lawrence are increasingly faced with decisions on reducing health-care benefits, raising the co-pays or deductibles, or eliminating whole facets of services," he said.
Much of the cost of mental health care results from unnecessary hospitalizations.
"WE HAVE been treating people in very expensive facilities, whether or not their clinical situation actually required that," he said.
Evidence suggests the majority of people suffering from emotional problems or chemical dependency could be treated as effectively outside of a hospital situation.
"The majority of our people can treat people in a less expensive but as clinically effective setting," Ray said. "We believe that is the system that we should be proposing."
Ray was in Lawrence to attend the annual meeting of the board of directors of the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center and participate in developing the center's plans.
The purpose of the luncheon was to explain the importance of community mental health care to the community at large, he said. About 15 local leaders attended the luncheon, including Douglas County and Lawrence city commissioners.
HOSPITALS STILL would have a vital role in mental health care, Ray said. They should be used to diagnose patients, provide medical treatment and contain any severly disturbed or dangerous patients.
"In all the other instances we can effectively manage treatment in out-patient, partial hospital and residential settings," Ray said. "That's the good news."
Ray praised Bert Nash Community Mental Health Care Center. "You have a very effective provider here," he said.
With an annual budget of about $2 million, Bert Nash also is an important part of Lawrence's economic structure, Ray said.
Asked by those attending the meeting what they could do about the problems with health care, Ray suggested they lobby for health-care reform.
Lawrence City Commissioner Bob Walters said Ray's comments confirmed his thoughts on the benefits of the Bert Nash center.
"I'm certainly in favor of continued support for Bert Nash," he said.