North Carolina’s Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos announced an initiative yesterday to address how mental health and substance abuse is handled across the state, and how best to avoid using emergency rooms and jail cells as regular treatment options.
“We will ask this coalition to assess our existing structure in the state and recommend possible policy changes to help break down the barriers to care for our patients,” Wos said, according to the Associated Press .
But it appears the state agency already assembled a coalition and launched a similar effort two years ago, when DHHS released a comprehensive action plan to lessen behavioral health stays in local emergency rooms.
The 2011 “Emergency Department Length of Stay Action Plan” (see below) brought in more than 60 stakeholders from the mental health, recovery, hospital and law enforcement communities — similar to what Wos proposed in her announcement yesterday for her new effort.
Calls to DHHS’s communications office for comment about how the new process will differ from 2011, and what happened to the implementation of the 2011 action plan not immediately returned. The 2011 plan was developed under former Gov. Bev Perdue’s administration, Wos was appointed to head the agency in January by Gov. Pat McCrory.
At the announcement Thursday, Wos had few details about what the new process will look like, how much it would cost and what it would do.
“It is only the beginning of a very long process,” Wos said, according to the News & Observer .
The 45-page 2011 action plan details 25 recommendations that concentrate on early intervention, reducing the numbers of people using emergency rooms for mental health crises, cutting back on the length of hospital stays and linking at-risk patients with housing and support systems. The effort was headed by Dr. U. Nena Lekwauwa, who is currently listed  as the clinical policy chief in the state’s division of mental health, developmental disabilities and substance abuse services.
“The development of this action plan presented an opportunity for numerous stakeholders … to work collaboratively to assess needs and identify gaps in crisis services and resources,” the 2011 report concluded. “The process itself was an important took for identifying system issues and barriers and subsequent recommendations.”