As we have been reflecting on the future of health care in many previous posts, it is clear that among our many successes, we have failed miserably in one area of health care delivery: behavioral health.
Although 10 years ago many futurists would have predicted that the rapid development of medications to treat psychiatric illnesses would clear our inpatient mental health facilities, we have found that today there is more confusion and controversy not only on the diagnosis but of the efficacy of many of the drugs that at one time were thought to be miracle cures for mental disabilities. Unfortunately, before the facts were known, inpatient facilities were cleared and closed, driven for the most part by the rapid decline of reimbursement both by governmental and private insurers.
Consequently, our streets became filled with people unable to work or care for themselves, which has added to the growing number of uninsured and underserved in our country.
In addition, because of the aging population, we are seeing mental illnesses such as depression as well as medical diseases now occurring in the elderly that only once occurred in younger people. Consequently, we are seeing the need to open up geriatric psychiatric centers, both in inpatient and outpatient settings. Also, because of the rising ages of our seniors (it was recently reported that there are now 80,000 people in America over the age of 100), we will see more memory loss maladies such as Alzheimer’s or chronic senility. These will require new medications, new settings for care and new surgical treatments.
Hence, in our transformational strategy, we must make sure that we address the issues outlined above and attempt to correct. How might we do that?
1. Require that every region in CHRISTUS Health have a senior strategy that includes care for people with behavioral illnesses.
2. Require that every region have access to both inpatient and outpatient memory stimulation units. One example of this would be an intergenerational program in place in our Utah region or our “animal partner program”, which we are now encouraging not only in our senior centers, but also in our acute facilities.
3. Strengthen our advocacy program to encourage both the government and private insurers to re-establish reimbursement levels which are appropriate to care for this increasing population of senior behavioral problems.
4. Advocate for more research dollars to be spent identifying both causes and treatment for behavioral diseases, including the support of developing more outpatient procedures and safer anti-psychotic medications for this population.
At the present time, CHRISTUS Health has three geriatric psych units which can be studied thoroughly to determine the best treatment plans and can also be utilized as pilot sites for experimenting with new programs and processes which we may represent a breakthrough in care.
In addition, by demanding that these diseases be focused on in our new senior centers, hopefully we can continue to be leaders in advocating for enhanced services for behavioral health in all ages for people both in the U.S. and in our international ministries.