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County wants mental health ?navigator'

The Franklin Press - 5/16/2018

Macon County may be one step closer to streamlining mental health services for citizens who need those resources.

At their April meeting the board of commissioners approved a grant application through Macon County Public Health to create a new position to coordinate the No Wrong Door program.

"We held a community forum about two months ago, and from that forum we took all the data that was collected and synthesized it before coming to the conclusion that we need a mental health system navigator," MCPH Director Jim Bruckner said. "We want to apply for an Evergreen Foundation grant for $60,000 to hire that person. There are some county matching funds needed, but we have been able to find those funds within our current budget."

Bruckner explained that the new person would act similarly to a veteran's services coordinator, in that the system navigator would not necessarily provide a mental health service but would connect a citizen to the proper place to access the service they need.

Bruckner added that Macon County has received a grant from East Carolina University to provide tele-psychiatry through the health department. ECU will provide all of the equipment needed to do psychiatric evaluations along with up to four hours per week of psychiatrist clinical time.

"Part of this new position we are looking to create would be to coordinate that time and make sure that the people who need the service most have access to it," Bruckner said. "The other piece of this is the No Wrong Door piece, and that is to connect people with resources that are available."

No Wrong Door is an initiative that started with the N.C. Department of Commerce in 2016. The Macon County mental health task force has adapted the concept to hopefully better connect potential clients with the mental health and substance abuse treatment services that they need, no matter where they turn for help initially.

In March, commissioner Ronnie Beale hosted a No Wrong Door community forum in Franklin to procure data to help build the program locally. The forum brought together elected officials, business owners, healthcare providers, church leaders, law enforcement officers and educators to talk about potential solutions to the area's lack of mental health assets.

"That forum was just the first step in implementing the No Wrong Door program," Beale, who serves on the state mental health task force, said. "We are trying to be proactive with mental health in Macon County rather than be reactive. We hope that these efforts will lead to less people spending days in the ER waiting for services because they have a mental health or substance use issue."

According to MCPH statistics, Macon County's suicide rate and rate of overdose were above the state average from 2012-2016. Along with the higher-than-average rate of suicides and overdoses, the Macon County Community Health Assessment for 2016 noted that 70 percent of all patients seen for a mental health issue also had some form of physical medical condition.

The MCPH statistics noted that approximately 26 percent of all Americans over the age of 18 suffer from a diagnosable mental illness. In Macon County, roughly 6 percent of citizens who have a diagnosable mental illness suffer from what is considered a "serious mental illness," meaning that they require long-term treatment and care.

A motion to seek the Evergreen Foundation grant and subsequently hire a mental health systems navigator for Macon County, if the grant is awarded, passed unanimously.

 
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