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Report finds ‘serious shortages’ in mental health-care access

Jacqueline Hudson (left) and Michael Morrison (right) joined host Don Marsh in studio to discuss disparities between mental healthcare needs and access to care in Missouri.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio
Jacqueline Hudson (left) and Michael Morrison (right) joined host Don Marsh in studio to discuss disparities between mental healthcare needs and access to care in Missouri.

new report by the Missouri Federation of Behavioral Health Advocates shows concern for the significant disparities between mental health-care needs and access to care in Missouri. On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh discussed the report’s findings and how they might be addressed.

Jacqueline Hudson, director of advocacy at NAMI St. Louis, and Sita Diehl, author of the report and executive director at NAMI Tennessee, joined Thursday’s conversation to talk about addressing the stigma surrounding mental health.

NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness) St. Louis is facilitating efforts to enhance Missouri’s parity law in the current legislative session. Hudson said HB 2384 would make the state’s parity law “fairer for people needing mental health and addiction treatment and bring it up to par to federal parity law.” That includes expanded addiction treatment and setting eligibility requirements and reimbursement rates in insurance companies.

Diehl said the report, "Nowhere to Turn—Findings from a Survey on Access to Mental Health and Addictions Treatment among Missouri Health Plan Beneficiaries," found that Missouri residents lack access to affordable mental health and substance abuse care.

The difficulty in finding providers stems from the lack of them in the insurance networks, causing patients to pay “substantially more out of pocket,” which discourages many from seeking proper care.

Hudson said insurance companies are reluctant to expand mental health-care providers to their networks due to the sigma surrounding it. She gave the example of a parent with two kids who have chronic illnesses – one with diabetes and one with a mental illness.

“The one with diabetes can see the doctor [an] unlimited amount of times and the one with mental illness has a limited amount of time to see the doctor for depression – that’s not fair,” Hudson said. “And that parent shouldn’t have to deal with that type of stigma.”

Michael Morrisonexecutive vice president of Preferred Family Healthcare, also joined the conversation and explained that substance abuse disorders are brain disorders. He said 70 percent of Preferred Family Healthcare clients have coexisting diagnosable psychiatric disorders as well as the substance abuse disorder.

He agreed that stigma is a major setback for patients to find proper help for their chronic disorders.

“These are chronic conditions that people are going to probably have for the rest of their lives and are characterized by a cyclic relapsing pattern for a while and health insurance companies don’t particularly want to pay for them,” Morrison said.

Husdon said the current opioid epidemic has fueled increased conversations among state representatives to find a mental health-care solution.

Julie Oziah-Gideon, a mother of an opioid overdose victim, also joined Thursday’s program to talk about her family’s experience in dealing with finding substance abuse help. Due to the lack of care provided, Oziah-Gideon lost her daughter to an overdose.

Once the daughter first told Oziah-Gideon about her drug addiction problem, finding a local hospital to provide care was difficult.

“We went to a local hospital and we were told to make an appointment and that they were at least a week out,” Oziah-Gideon said. “What do you do for that week? Do you keep feeding them drugs? Do you just watch them and hope they don’t die?”

After finding a treatment facility in Florida, Oziah-Gideon said the next issue was how insurance companies don’t pay for more than 30 days of in-patient care.

“[The daughter] begged to stay for at least three more weeks and they told her ‘no.’ Within a week she had a relapse,” she said.

NAMI St. Louis will host a “NAMIWalks” event to address mental illness stigma and help provide education on mental illness and where to get treatment.

Related Event:

What: NAMIWalks St. Louis
When: 9 a.m. Saturday, May 5, 2018
Where: Chesterfield Amphitheater, 631 Veterans Pl Dr., Chesterfield, MO 63017

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex HeuerEvie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.