Shortage of Mental Health Services Affect Families Throughout Missouri

Most counties in Missouri lack adequate mental health services and the shortage of available treatment is growing worse. The problem is especially severe for the poor because many psychiatrists do not accept Medicaid patients. The federal government has designated 104 of Missouri’s 114 counties as areas of mental health shortages.

The director of the Missouri Department of Mental Health, Keith Schafer, recently discussed these concerns with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. According to Schafer: “It’s creating huge problems for individuals, for emergency rooms and certainly for law enforcement officials.” Schafer told the paper of one patient who had to be transported 325 miles to Nevada, Missouri to find the help he needed.

Families who want their loved one to have in-patient care face tough challenges. Since 1990 the number of available psychiatric hospital beds has dropped from 2,600 to 1,174. The lack of in-patient care and the waiting lists for out-patient care can lead to bigger problems, both for the person suffering the mental illness and for the local community. Too often mentally disturbed individuals end up in local jails.

Expanding Medicaid to take advantage of the 100% match now offered by the federal government would help fill the gap and provide more mental health care but so far the general assembly has rejected legislation in this area. Hospital systems like the Sisters of St. Mary (SSM) are trying to meet the need but waiting lists delay treatment for many.

It is estimated that over 41,000 individuals with mental health issues currently served with 100% state funds could be eligible for Medicaid, which is primarily federal funded,  if Missouri expanded its Medicaid program.  The MCC supports Medicaid expansion.
Posted: February 14, 2014

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