Mental health resources lacking in Beaufort County

in Health by

By Laura Kaponer

One in five people will experience a mental health issue within their lifetime. As the population of Beaufort County increases, so will those with mental health issues.

Beaufort County is experiencing a massive shortage of mental health providers. Most of these professionals are in private practice and do not accept insurance at this time. Wait times for both private and public sectors, outside of crisis situations, can be months. What other medical field locally has that extensive a waiting period for debilitating and possibly life-threatening conditions?

Although there are three local hospitals easily accessible to Beaufort County residents – Hilton Head Regional, Beaufort Memorial and Coastal Carolina – only one of those hospitals has an inpatient unit for mental health patients for the general population.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kurt Gambla says,”Beaufort Memorial’s acute inpatient mental health unit offers an intensive therapeutic environment providing 24-hour nursing, medical and psychiatric care for adult patients who require a structured, safe space for crisis resolution and stabilization.” At this time this program is only available to the adult population with a 14-bed maximum capacity.

Recently Hilton Head Regional jump-started a program “The Cove” as part of the Senior Behavioral Health Unit. According to the website this program provides “Individualized short-term care … for older adults experiencing psychiatric symptoms …”

At this time the program is geared toward the population 65 years and older, but patients outside that bracket will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

The supply vs. the demand for treatments at a higher level of care are highly disproportionate because the available resources just aren’t there. Often treatment needs are sought out of the area at such facilities as MUSC in Charleston.

Possibly one of the greatest gaps in service to the one in five Beaufort County residents with mental health issues is the complete absence of an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). IOP is readily available across the country, such as MUSC in Charleston, and serves as a vital bridge between inpatient hospitalization level of care and individual outpatient therapy.

IOP is a step down program to teach transitional coping skills for living as a patient adjusts from life within a facility to life back within the general population. This service is usually provided with both full day and half day options.

Without such a bridge the drastic change from hospitalization to outpatient care can be very jarring to an individual’s recovery and creates a high likelihood of relapse. If it comes down to a matter of finances, a well rounded treatment program that builds the foundation for longevity of well being is far more cost effective than short spurts of various treatments that are almost always rapidly cyclical in nature.

Why are so many people with mental health issues continually being hospitalized one time after another after another? Because they are not getting the proper follow up afterward.

Most insurances only cover mental health inpatient hospitalization for an average of seven days. While seven days may prove effective to mitigate a crisis situation, it will in no way even begin to treat the underlying condition that brought the patient to the hospital in the first place. In contrast IOP programs tend to last an average of six weeks.

Laura Kaponer is a mental health advocate and blogger, as well as a volunteer with the local chapter of NAMI. You can find her on social media by searching #Laurakaponeris1in5.