Macon applies for mental health assistance grant

maconMacon County Emergency Management Services hopes to expand an existing health care model to better serve mental health patients in the county — and a grant from the Evergreen Foundation may help the department fund it.

Cherokee implements full-circle rehabilitation for drug recovery

fr snowbirdIt’s been a while since the old Mountain Credit Union building in Cherokee saw foot traffic from people looking to deposit checks or get financial advice, but its doors still swing open and closed with regularity — though for a much different purpose.

Recovery rally aims to offer hope

haywoodIt takes a village to combat a drug addiction or mental illness, and Richie Tannerhill is hoping to see a multitude of villages turn out when the inaugural Western Regional Rally for Recovery comes to Lake Junaluska Sept. 19.

Angel Medical takes over mental patient supervision

medicalMacon County Sheriff Robbie Holland has found some recent budget relief since Angel Medical Center took over supervising mental health patients that are brought in for evaluation.

Sheriffs cope with exploding costs of involuntary committals

Law enforcement officers in Western North Carolina have been spending too much time and money driving all across the state in search of available hospital beds.

When magistrate judges issue an involuntary committal order, an officer from that county is required by law to transport the patient to a hospital for evaluation, but the shortage of available beds for mental health patients is making the process burdensome.

Resources fail to keep up with mental health needs

In late February, a Macon County youth was checked into the local emergency room in need of psychological care. Because the hospital, Angel Medical Center, does not provide that type of service, he spent the night in the ER while awaiting transfer to a state inpatient facility that treats juveniles with mental health issues.

Investment in mental health might provide some answers

op frBy Bob Scott • Guest Columnist

After the killing of 26 children and adults by a young man using a semi-automatic gun best used for combat, the knee-jerk reactions have begun.

Politicians on the Democrat side of the aisle are calling for assault weapon bans. Some Republicans are saying we need more guns. Others are claiming that if we arm more people, they will stop a shooter. If more people carry guns, there will be less crime. Schools should have armed guards. All of these solutions are inconclusive. However, 19 mass killings in the past five years have produced no reasonable answer to this terrible national problem. Stronger gun control will probably have no effect as there are more than 300 million guns in our society. It would be impossible to round up these guns or even attempt to register them.

Under-the-radar sublease of county building comes to light in convoluted civil case

The director of a mental health nonprofit falsely posed as the landlord for a building he didn’t own for nearly a decade, collecting more than $371,000 in rent on office space that in fact belonged to Haywood County, according to a civil lawsuit.

Since 2003, Tom McDevitt, the director of Evergreen Foundation based in Waynesville, collected monthly rent on two office buildings in Waynesville that were owned by the county — unbeknownst to the county.

McDevitt loses CPA license

The former director of Smoky Mountain Center for Mental Health has lost his CPA license over allegations he backdated his first day of state employment to bolster his retirement benefits.

Care of mentally ill may be Arizona tragedy’s lesson

There are many issues to discuss in the wake of the tragedy in Arizona that left six dead and 13 wounded.

The ugliness of the political discourse in this nation is one. We took that subject up last week in news article and column form in The Smoky Mountain News, and I suspect we’ll probably explore this particular topic in greater depth in the future. Gun rights might be another subject to eventually tackle. Though I, frankly, find this particular angle as a potential outcome to the Arizona shootings less than convincing. Perhaps because I own firearms, my family owns firearms, and I grew up in these mountains where almost everyone I knew growing up had guns in their homes, too.

Having acknowledged my tepid interest in the debate concerning gun ownership, I do concede controls of a sort might be worth discussion — such as whether we should truly allow the insane easy access to weapons such as a semiautomatic handgun with a high-capacity ammo clip.

Which ties neatly into what I believe is the single most important lesson being offered in the wake of the Arizona shootings: the consequences of denying the mentally ill the care and monitoring required. The potential outcome of such neglect has been spelled out in graphic, heartbreaking detail. We can ignore what happened in Arizona only at great peril. And, if we choose to do so, I think it should be openly acknowledged that a repeat of what happened there could easily happen elsewhere, and probably will.

Just making sure we’re all on the same page: does anyone have the smallest doubt, simply by looking into the alleged Arizona killer’s eyes in that creepy mug shot taken a short time after police say he gunned down so many, that this young man is seriously mentally ill?  

I’ll give a nod of approval to the community college he once attended. After Jared Lee Loughner exhibited bizarre, scary behavior, they apparently acted properly and promptly. Officials expelled him, and agreed they’d let the 22-year old back into school only if he underwent a mental health evaluation (and, I assume, passed it, if one “passes” such a thing).

Then what happened, though? There the storyline of attention paid to Loughner seems to end. At least until all the dead and wounded piled up outside a Tucson grocery store.

In case you’re curious, North Carolina doesn’t offer much support to the mentally ill or their families these days, either. In the name of savings, the state largely dismantled a not-that-great-to-begin-with system a few years ago. Here’s a bit of what I wrote in 2008 in a series of investigative articles on the state’s mental health system for a local newspaper chain. We were examining North Carolina’s then new (translation: cheap) approach to helping the mentally ill:

“Reform, to hear proponents tell it, would empower people with choices. No longer would patients be shut out and shut up when it came time to decide on treatments. Now they would get to pick from a virtual smorgasbord of choices, all conveniently located in their hometown or county.

This, taxpayers were told, would save money – lots and lots of money. Millions, in fact, because more people would be treated in their own communities instead of being admitted to one of the state’s four psychiatric hospitals.

Who could argue with empowerment and saving money? Actually, a few people did, but not effectively enough for anyone in power to heed their warnings.

The result?

A mental health system that has wasted, not saved, millions of tax dollars. And worse, many of the state’s most vulnerable residents are unable to obtain adequate treatments. For those people and their families, the price has been incalculable.”

It is time — it’s past time — to face honestly what we are potentially unleashing with our neglect, and in the name of saving pennies. Take a look again at the massacre in Arizona.

Granted, most of those with mental illnesses do not buy guns and start shooting — God knows, I’m not saying that, so please don’t think I’m stigmatizing those who deserve compassion and help.

What I am saying is that we have a responsibility, a duty, to care for and monitor those who potentially pose a danger to themselves and others. The economic costs of doing so be damned — we need a mental-health system in place that works.

 

(Quintin Ellison can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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