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Cardinal seeks alternatives to jail and ER for mentally ill

About 250 people came to Myers Park Baptist Church on Friday for a Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Solutions symposium on mental health crisis intervention.
About 250 people came to Myers Park Baptist Church on Friday for a Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Solutions symposium on mental health crisis intervention. ahelms@charlotteobserver.com

Mecklenburg County needs more options for mentally ill people in crisis, officials from the state and Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Solutions said Friday.

“In Mecklenburg there is a cultural trend to send people to the hospital or to jail unnecessarily,” said Nicole McKinney, the Cardinal vice president responsible for the county.

About 250 public officials, mental health professionals, police, judges and others who work with the mentally ill came to Myers Park Baptist Church for a symposium on crisis prevention and intervention. It was sponsored by Cardinal Innovations, the managed care group that controls Medicaid spending for mental health, addiction and developmental disabilities in 16 counties.

“What you’re doing today is a blueprint for what we’re doing as a state,” said Dave Richard, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services deputy secretary in charge of behavioral health. On Thursday, DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos announced that Richard will take charge of North Carolina’s Medicaid program starting next month.

Dr. Keith McCoy, acting chief medical officer for Cardinal, said Monarch, a nonprofit group with a behavioral health center in Charlotte, does assessments for people in crisis, helps people manage their medications and refers them for care.

But unlike Durham and Wake counties, he said, Mecklenburg doesn’t have a mental health urgent care center that can provide care for people in crisis. Those centers were developed with “millions of dollars of county money,” McCoy said.

Charlotte has three hospitals that offer inpatient psychiatric treatment, he said, but that’s not enough. Too many people end up “getting stuck in our emergency rooms, and it’s tragic. Tell me one thing that’s healing about an emergency room.”

Representatives of the police department, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Carolinas Healthcare System and other community agencies talked about ways to work together. McCoy says there’s a desperate need for homes for people with addictions and mental illness. He praised Moore Place, a Charlotte housing project that provides support for the formerly homeless, as an example.

“Medicaid services are not going to work without stable housing,” he said.

Helms: 704-358-5033;

Twitter: @anndosshelms. This article is done in collaboration with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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