May is Mental Health Awareness Month. In recognition of this, The Valley Times-News reached out to the East Alabama Mental Health Center to get an idea of how mental illness is handled in Chambers County. EAMHC Executive Director Jimmie Dickey and Clinical Director Bronwyn Ramsey responded together in letter form.
Dickey and Ramsey said they could only speak for their own staff (they said there are several private mental health providers in the area), but EAMHC is doing quite well in treating its target population . This is despite the fact that EAMHC has seen a significant increase in demand for mental health and substance use disorder treatment services in recent years.
Members of the target population of EAMHC are those with severe mental illnesses, severe emotional disorders, substance use disorders and developmental disabilities.
“We are able to meet the needs of these specific populations due to the comprehensive nature of the services we provide,” said Dickey and Ramsey. “However, it should be noted that we refer to and rely on private providers in the community to meet the needs of those who do not meet established statutory and clinical criteria for serious mental illness.”
Although things are going quite well for EAMHC, it has faced some challenges. Funding is a major concern for mental health centers in general, they said, adding that EAMHC serves as a public safety net for Lee, Russell, Chambers and Tallapoosa counties.
“This mission usually manifests at 80% [of] our population of consumers with household incomes below $10,000 per year and nearly 90% below $20,000,” they said. “Furthermore, we do not deny services to anyone who meets clinical criteria based on inability to pay. Instead, we base the fees for their services on a very generous mobile fee scale to alleviate any perceived barriers to the services the community needs.
Dickey and Ramsey said that last year, EAMHC provided more than $2.6 million in unpaid care to the community, including more than $400,000 specifically for citizens of Chambers County.
“In the past, this underfunding has led to significant changes in recruiting new employees,” they said. “However, we have very recently taken aggressive and intentional steps to close the salary gap that we can offer new staff in order to be competitive with other potential employers. When you combine this with our benefits package very generous, we are confident that we will make significant progress in increasing our staff this year.”
The most significant barrier EAMHC sees as preventing people from getting the mental health care they need is stigma.
“We have certainly seen improvements over the past few years, but there is still a long way to go in educating the community on the benefits of having a high quality provider to partner with to meet their mental health needs,” said Dickey and Ramsey. mentioned.
Another obstacle encountered by the population served by EAMHC is the lack of means of transport.
“While we have the capacity to help some, many in our community must rely on friends, family and neighbors to access services,” they said.
Dickey and Ramsey said many incarcerated people have histories of mental illness and substance abuse disorders.
“According to recent studies, well over half of incarcerated people have experienced some type of mental health or addiction problem,” they said. “That means about 2 million times a year across the country, people with serious mental illness are admitted to prison.”
Dickey and Ramsey said nearly three-quarters of these adults also had co-occurring substance use disorders.
“The worst part of all of this is that if left untreated, the risk of re-incarceration is significantly higher for these people, creating unnecessary stress for them and their families as well as unnecessary overcrowding in our prisons,” they said. declared. “Through the diligent work of the Chambers County Commission and the Chambers County Jail, we have been able to place a case manager in the jail whose sole purpose is to identify people in need of mental health services and put them in touch with our service providers when they are released. ”
EAMHC provides services to Chambers County residents through several locations.
“We operate an outpatient clinic for adults and children in Valley, Alabama,” they said. “Counseling services are provided by trained therapists. Additionally, physician-insured psychiatric services and/or physician-supervised nurse practitioners are available to manage medications and psychiatric symptoms.
Dickey and Ramsey said EAMHC provides outpatient services in LaFayette at the Chambers County Human Resources Department building for people with substance use disorders. EAMHC also contracts with local schools to provide school counseling services.
“In addition to these residential services, we offer a variety of intensive, community or home-based support services based on specific consumer needs,” they said.