February 25, 2008

NC wastes millions in mental health reform

Once again news about North Carolina highlights that millions are being wasted by the state - this time in mental health reform. Dempsey Benton, the new leader of the state's department of Health and Human Services, is making an effort to reduce costs and waste but the state has already wasted at least $400 million attempting to treat more mentally ill people in their communities and fewer in the state's four psychiatric hospitals.

Once again this has taken place during Governor Easley's watch as recently seen with other political appointees made by Easley committing major and costly blunders while managing DOT, DMV and other state divisions. Changes in mental health treatment during the time of another of Governor Easley's appointees, Hooker Odom, former leader of DHHS, allowed practices to be put in place that has allowed millions to be wasted by questionable providers providing questionable services for mentally ill patients with virtually no specific controls over services provided. Even with much finger pointing between Easley and various state representatives trying to shift blame to each other, poorly planned changes were made during Easley's administration with insufficient controls and procedures to insure funds are spent for needed treatments and valid services and paid to legitimate providers.

Department officials defined too loosely the community support services companies would offer, and they agreed to pay too much for it according to a news report. Responsibility for enacting the changes fell to Health and Human Services, led for six years by Carmen Hooker Odom, Gov. Mike Easley's appointee. They didn't think through all the details of providing adequate services for mentally ill patients and were overwhelmed by the task and still are. Hooker Odom announced her resignation from DHHS last May, two weeks after informing Easley about what she called a "deeply disturbing" audit of mental-health providers.

News and Observer
February 24, 2008
The Associated Press

State wastes millions in mental-health reform

RALEIGH, N.C. - North Carolina has wasted at least $400 million in its efforts to treat more mentally ill people in their own communities and fewer in the state's four psychiatric hospitals, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported Sunday.

An investigation by the newspaper showed that local governments, forced to stop offering treatment, were replaced by providers trying to make money, using mostly high school graduates instead of licensed professionals. In a few months, the cost of the community support program was $50 million a month, more than 10 times what the state had expected.

Providers took some clients to movies or shopping, charging taxpayers $61 an hour, according to the newspaper's investigation. Meanwhile, some seriously ill people went without treatment.

It was almost a year before the state reacted.

Hundreds of providers have abused the system, the state now says. Read more...

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