Georgia ranks 48th in the nation in access to mental health care, but state lawmakers hope to improve this defining issue with House Bill 1013, also known as Georgia Mental Health Parity. Act.
The bill, signed into law in April by Gov. Brian Kemp, requires insurers to cover mental health and substance abuse issues in the same way they cover physical conditions like heart attack. or diabetes.
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“If you have an injury to your knee or your back – you may have surgery, you may not have – but you can almost always get the kind of physical rehabilitation from a physical therapist that is needed for your knee to work again,” he said. Dr. Mark Johnson, a psychiatry specialist at Gateway Behavior Health.
“Insurance companies don’t have to pay for the kind of rehabilitation that we know is a fact that psychosis is necessary or depression is necessary.”
To put that in perspective, patients must commit suicide before the insurance company pays for a visit. If that pattern applies to any health condition such as a heart attack, a person must be diagnosed with a heart attack before care can be paid for.
“It’s snowballs from there,” Sen. said. Ben Watson (R-Savannah), a co-sponsor of the bill. “And so Georgia, I think, can be a leader in this that we’re trying to make state regulations that require insurance companies to treat mental health on the same par appropriately.”
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The Mental Health Parity Act also aims to expand access to care by increasing the number of mental health professionals in the state through loan forgiveness, improving data and transparency in the sector; provide a grant program to establish assisted outpatient treatment programs, and relax the Georgia standard for voluntary commitment by providing assistance to police and crisis workers when they are called into a health crisis mentally.
The latter purpose is related to SB 403, also known as the Georgia Behavioral Health and Peace Officer Co-Responder Act, which would provide a statewide framework for multiple co-responder teams. The bill will provide local law enforcement agencies with the opportunity to work with mental health providers to help officials respond to an emergency mental health crisis.
The Behavioral Health Unit of the Savannah Police Department is a prime example of this. The unit is designed to create effective community intervention to reduce prison use for adults, young adults, and minors who may need alternative services or may have moral and/or health needs. substance abuse.
Crisis intervention trained (CIT) officers go through intensive 40-hour training where they are taught how to respond to people who are in emotional or mental health crisis.
A good first step for Georgia, but much more to follow
While the bill addresses Georgia’s mental health system, it’s the first step in what could be a lot for this long -term investment.
Mary Jo Horton, Memorial Health’s behavioral health manager and social worker, oversees the hospital’s inpatient and outpatient services. Horton was previously the mental health clinician for Chatham County Juvenile Court and also runs a therapeutic care agency.
Through his experiences, he sees how difficult it is to navigate the mental health system.
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“Even if Savannah definitely has a lot of resources in some rural areas, we’re definitely a system of services, so that’s very disappointing,” Horton said. “I’ve really seen different experiences and I’ve seen the frustration and the pain and suffering that families go through to get the right service. There is a lack of stability in counseling agencies … with parents, there is not much education in the community about what the difference is between sending my child to a psychiatrist, as opposed to sending my child to a licensed therapist, as opposed to getting an evaluation.
Mental health has long held a public stigma that has led to a lack of understanding from family members, friends, and co -workers as well as limited opportunities. If the focus is placed on minority communities, the pursuit of mental health care is not stigmatized.
Inequality of access is compounded by structural challenges and highlighted by the fact that only one in three African Americans struggling with mental health issues will receive appropriate treatment, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illnesses.
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Minority communities also have little choice if they are not insured. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2018, 19% of Hispanic people will have no form of health insurance.
“I think the biggest question a family can ask themselves is how am I now connected,” Horton said of the difficulty of access. “Communities have their own informal networks, and I think sometimes we can’t use what’s already working for some communities.… People are very nervous to ask for help, but when to go they are with their neighbor and they share, they go to their community or community of faith and they share, all of a sudden, other people feel empowered.And what you find is that they do a good job very supportive network for each other. ”
Johnson said the next big thing is to get housing. He explained that strong living and an established routine can improve the mental health of the individual.
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Johnson and Horton believe the bill is a step in the right direction.
“It’s not the end — everything to be everything. We’ve been making mental health laws since I was in the legislature and we’re going to make mental health laws after I’m out of the legislature, ”Watson said.
“But the point is, I think it’s a good step in the right direction; I think this is a big step. ”
Laura Nwogu is the quality of life reporter for the Savannah Morning News. Contact him at [email protected] Twitter: @lauranwogu_