Medicaid Fails To Pay, Mental Health Care Suffers

Low income, mentally ill patients will have to wait longer to see a doctor and the director of a local clinic says Medicaid is largely to blame. Coastal Family Health Center hired a psychiatrist four years ago to ease the burden on other mental health facilities and get patients seen faster. This month all that came to an end.

Coastal Family Health Center laid off its psychiatrist because it hasn't received promised Medicaid money. Medical director Dr. Scott Russell now has to handle the 900 mental health cases in which he has no expertise.

He says ultimately those patients will need to find treatment elsewhere. That could take months.

"Other groups will be able to pick up these patients and absorb them into their system." said Dr. Russell. "The problem is they're just as overworked as we are, so it's going to take some time to get them in. We have to fill that void."

If mentally ill patients have to wait to see doctors, they might also have to wait for prescriptions.

"The most immediate difficulty will be running out of medicines. There are some medicines that it's very important that you do not stop because it could have it's own set of side effects."

"Secondarily, being the time of year it is there is a lot of anxiety, a lot stress. People are going to have acute reactions where they need to see somebody right now."

In 2004, the center's psychiatric program cost $200,000. So far this year it has received $19,000 from insurance companies and patient payments and nothing from Medicaid. The Center's Director says the state owes some $60,000 in reimbursements.

Executive director Joe Dawsey said, "I've contacted Medicaid many times and it's always been, 'We'll get it to you just as soon as we can.'"

The center provided mental health care in all three coastal counties and cut services have staff workers concerned.

"The general feeling from me and the patients is complete devastation because we're hurt. We don't want to lose this program, but again we can't continue without any funding to provide the services," said Dawsey.

Coastal Family Health Center's director says Medicaid owes the clinic an additional $35,000 to $40,000 for the optometry program. WLOX news called the Division of Medicaid and were told by officials that because of HIPPA laws they were not allowed to discuss the matter.