There is no health without mental health.
That was the message Dr. James Scully Jr., medical director and CEO of the American Psychiatric Association, delivered Friday as Carolinas HealthCare System broke ground on its new behavioral health campus in Davidson.
The facility has been in the works since 2011, and Dr. Roger Ray, CHS executive vice president and chief medical officer, said the journey to the official groundbreaking “at times felt like a roller coaster.”
The psychiatric campus had previously been planned for hospital-owned property at N.C. 115 and Verhoeff Drive in Huntersville. But many residents objected to having a mental health hospital near their homes and town officials rejected the necessary rezoning in March 2012.
The behavioral health campus came to the current 22-acre location in May 2012 and hospital officials closed on the property – off N.C. 73 east of Ramah Church Road – in February. Some nearby residents again didn’t want the facility. But rezoning wasn’t required and town officials welcomed the project.
At Friday’s groundbreaking, CHS Chief Executive Officer Michael Tarwater said mental health is a complex issue that can bring “an unfortunate element of fear in the minds of some people and a risk of controversy that can be disheartening.”
“Regrettably,” Tarwater said, “we have not yet achieved universal consensus on how best to work together to as a community to address the burgeoning, the mushrooming need for behavioral health services.”
Dr. John Santopietro is the hospital system’s new chief clinical officer for behavioral health services. He said he moved his family from Connecticut because of the “cultural moment” that the new behavioral health campus represents.
Santopietro said mental illness affects one in four Americans regardless of age, gender, race or geography.
“We have a national crisis,” he said. “There are more people with mental illness incarcerated than in psychiatric beds. That has to do with the steady drumbeat of bed closures, hospital closures and decimation of mental health budgets.”
Santopietro and Scully said that by treating both mental and physical health aspects, the cost of providing health care will be reduced.
“The cost of treating diabetes is 60 percent more when treating diabetes and depression,” Santopietro said. “One of the largest reasons for (hospital) readmission is an untreated mental health diagnosis.”
Scully said the nation will be watching as CHS integrates mental and physical health under one continuum of care. He said there is “robust data” from recent studies that show $26 billion to $48 billion could be saved nationally by “doing what we know and integrating. It will pay off.”
“With a facility like this – that’s part of the system and not separated out like old state hospitals – …integrating will be really important,” he said.
Tarwater said he’s been encouraged by legislative conversations that have started in Raleigh “regarding the statewide shortage of behavioral health beds and how best to accommodate communities that currently have little to no access to these kinds of resources.”
In addition to treating adults with chronic mental health disorders, Ray said, the Davidson facility also will work on prevention and early intervention. “Over time, hopefully that will diminish the need for acute care.”
Trenda: 704-358-5089 Twitter: @htrenda
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