Impacted mental health services for low-income, uninsured | News

Staffing shortages continue to impact low-income and uninsured Transylvania County residents seeking mental health services. Earlier this month, a number of local organizations received phone calls from mental health professionals reporting that Meridian Behavioral Health in Brevard had cut more in-person services.

As previously reported, Meridian helps low-income residents who are on Medicaid or uninsured. Medicaid, federal, state and local funding for mental health services and supports, is provided in Transylvania County through Vaya Health. Last October, customers were notified that Blue Ridge Health had merged with Meridian.

In response to a request for comment on Meridian’s hours of operation, Blue Ridge Health provided the following statement: “Walk-in services in Brevard have been temporarily suspended due to staff shortages. However, if a client comes into the office, we have staff to schedule an appointment for an assessment or other services. We have also provided clients with an on-call service during the day where they can call the call line and be contacted by a clinician. A mobile crisis is also available if the client needs it immediately.”

On August 1, several organizations, including the Department of Social Services, were contacted about changes in the Meridian schedule.

“They can’t do one-on-one therapy right now,” Principal Amanda Vanderoff said. “I was told they now offer telemedicine assessments and virtual wellness classes.”

A note taped to the inside of the Meridian’s closed door reads: “Adult Recovery Center Services Temporarily Suspended.”

Blue Ridge Health said Meridian’s virtual classes are offered and available to REC clients held at other locations. “While other services are not currently provided on-site, we provide case management and ACTT Step Down as community-based services,” it said. “We are also on the phone regularly with customers who need additional support at this time.”

Vanderoff said Meridian could offer some short-term peer support through telemedicine or be able to refer clients out of the county.

Emily Lowery, the county director of The Haven of Transylvania, the county’s only homeless shelter, got the same call.

“I was told last week that there will be no face-to-face classes and the REC will be closed until they can fill the open positions,” she said. “This affects our community as a whole because there are no alternatives for mental health needs other than the ED [emergency department] or a mobile crisis call (RHA), which can be hours on hold.”

Lowery said having a health facility is critical to a healthy community because mental health affects every aspect of a person’s life.

“We see a lot of people being homeless because of poor mental health,” Lowry said. “Mental health can have a significant impact on our psychological, emotional and social well-being. It affects our well-being every day.”

Blue Ridge Health said that currently at Merdian, drug treatment is the only service offered on site and “the provider’s clinic is open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.”

The Haven has created a paid Mental Health Counselor position to fill a gap in psychiatric treatment providers to assist its guests.

“It creates a safe and healthy place for our guests and for our community to empower people to truly heal from past trauma or other mental health needs that have been neglected for so long,” Lowery said.

Last month, Dr. Jim Huff was hired as a mental health consultant. After a 30-year career as a psychotherapist in Miami, Florida, he retired to Brevard to take up this position.

Lowry said she told Huff her nonprofit couldn’t afford a psychologist, and Huff said that would be fine; he didn’t get into business for the money.

“The therapist’s role is to form that connection with your client and help them work through past traumatic experiences,” Huff said of the importance of talk therapy. “In all research studies, they always conclude that the most effective form of therapy is a combination of medication, if needed, and talking. You should have talk therapy.’

Huff emphasized the role of personal therapy in helping people struggling with mental health.

“Medication will sort of ease the symptoms,” he said. “If you don’t have talk therapy to really work on interpersonal relationships—and how you perceive the world and how you perceive other people—the symptoms can come back.”

Huff provides group therapy, individual therapy for children and adults, and couples counseling at The Haven free of charge to all guests.

Additionally, guests are encouraged to continue talking therapy with him or someone else when they leave the shelter and find safer housing.

“I think basically people are the same no matter what socioeconomic class they’re in,” Huff said when asked if his clients at the homeless shelter are any different than his previous clients in private practice. “I think people who come here have been through more tragedies — divorce, separation, loss — and they don’t have the resources that people who have money have, have the resources to deal with those things.

“So that makes it difficult. You see a lot of substance abuse.”

“It’s really the relationship that heals, I think, in psychotherapy,” Huff added. “That’s what’s nice about being able to have a long-term relationship, because you get to really see that healing.”

Blue Ridge Health said Meridian continues to offer the following services:

• Brevard Health Center offers individual counseling and drug therapy for individuals recovering from opiate use disorders.

• Assertive Community Team Step Down provides services in the home or community several times a week.

•Comprehensive assessment assesses individual needs, provides recommendations and connects residents to resources.

• Case management services help individuals who need assistance with Medicaid applications, nutrition, and connections to other needed resources.

•Virtual access to an intensive outpatient substance abuse program, as well as classes held five days a week at the Recovery Education Center.

• Medical control.

•School and office outpatient therapy for children.

• Access to services on call 24/7.

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