Monday, 30 May 2011

Falling Through the Cracks

Today's Salt Lake Tribune has an absolutely tragic story about mental health services and their future in Salt Lake. Choice bit:

The waiting list is weeks out for an appointment for new patients at Valley Mental Health’s two clinics for the uninsured. And Valley won’t schedule new patients for July at the Resource and Resiliency Clinics because its future in providing those services — outpatient medication management and therapy — is uncertain.

New patients who don’t want to wait are heading to the Whole Health Clinic, but it recently closed its doors to new patients because of the increased demand by Valley patients and others. The Utah Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Health is taking calls from patients wondering where to go — and NAMI doesn’t know where to send them.

“We are really at a loss as to how to help people,” said Sherri Wittwer, NAMI’s consultant. “There’s nothing except the ER, and they don’t belong there.”

They don't belong in the ER for financial reasons as well as medical reasons - the cost of ER treatment compared to outpatient medication management and therapy has got to be staggering.

That bit about July is because Valley is contracted to provide uninsured patients with mental health services through June 30. On July 1, the contract is taken over* by OptumHealth. OptumHealth spokeshumans have promised to provide uninsured patients with mental health treatment, so here's hoping that we at least retain the limited infrastructure we have in place now. Considering Utah and Salt Lake's reputation(s) for health care excellence (in particular, Intermountain Health Care is usually mentioned in the same breath as Gunderson Lutheran or Kaiser Permanente as a model for health care's best and most efficient future) it's unfortunate, especially with an increasingly slim state budget, that our mental health care system is a bit...rough around the edges.

* - Technically, OptumHealth hasn't signed any contract at all yet ( ! ), so the idea of them providing even the most basic mental health care for anyone is copmletely theoretical at this point.


  1. Several years ago I hit a particularly shitty spot in my sanity and all of my attempts to get help were killed by this exact issue. Weeks and weeks is far too long when you are precariously balanced on the line between holding it together and doing something way too stupid and permanent and you have no idea when that slip is going to occur- you just know it will.

    I ended up being recommended to the 4th Street Homeless Clinic since I didn't have a job/insurance and got some amazing help there. I'm not usually a pull strings person, but I was all over that one.

    It's incredibly messed up, in my opinion, when strings have to be pulled to get someone who is aware they are about to kill themselves help.

  2. Melissa - thank you for the story, that's horrific. I know that when I got some help at UNI one of the policies they have in place is to *immediately* prioritize helping people who might be a threat to themselves or others. Unfortunately, UNI is *far* from a public/free clinic, so that's unfortunate.