Medical experts work to provide proper care for behavioral illne - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

Medical experts work to provide proper care for behavioral illness sufferers

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Leading health experts in South Carolina are calling for a complete transformation the healthcare system. They say it is necessary to provide better, needed care for those suffering from behavioral health illnesses.

A statewide task force recently unveiled its findings that South Carolina's healthcare is in need of a serious overhaul. The financial burden of behavioral illnesses, as many know, is tremendous.

The task force said behavioral health care costs alone are $57 billion per year in the United States, and mental illness costs are a whopping $444 billion. A third of that is medical care costs, and more than two-thirds is paid by society, in the form of lost productivity and disability payments.

Nearly one in five Americans reported having a mental illness in the past year - almost 44 million people. South Carolina ranks among the lowest in the country in accessibility to mental health services, and getting children mental health services they need, according to the task force.

"I have one in-patient psychiatric center I can send my patients to right now," said Dr. Jon Pangia with Grand Strand Medical Center. "And I have one reliable clinic that I can send mental health patients to right now. That's it. So when it comes to my emergency department, I'm not guaranteed to have the resources available to get good care here because it just doesn't exist."

Dr. Pangia spent time working in homeless outreach. "I found, is what the truth is that almost everybody who's living on the street for longer than a short-term has either a problem with drug or alcohol addiction and/or mental health issues which prevent them from being able to get a good job and live in a decent place," he said.

And that's why in the Grand Strand area, Dr. Pangia said steps need to be taken. "We are a homeless destination in Myrtle Beach," he said. "There's a few destinations in the country. Homeless does not mean immobile. People will travel, they'll travel to nice places. So yes, we absolutely have a large homeless population compared to other parts of the country."

The task force called for providing patients in-patient psychiatric hospital services, rehabilitation services, the ability to live with support in their community - one that fosters long-term success. It also calls for kids to have access to help in school. From Pangia's experience, when young adults suffer mental breaks and their illness emerges, it often doesn't end well, "and they become our homeless people," he added. "Because after a while, their family is just burned out. Because they just can't be expected to be the only ones helping take care of them. All by themselves, without any help. We just shouldn't let it happen."

There is something in the works that could help people suffering from behavioral and mental illnesses in the Grand Strand. It will require just a little bit of rearranging at the South Strand Medical Center, but hospital leaders are trying to put in a brand new psychiatric unit to give patients a new option for treatment.

“We have the room to be able to provide the service at our South Strand facility," explained GSMC CMO Dr. Andrew Schwartz. "Actually have room that could be easily constructed or converted into patient care areas for the designated purpose of behavioral healthcare patients.”

Grand Strand Medical Center applied for a certificate of need from the state of South Carolina last August for a brand new psychiatric unit.

The proposed unit would be able to house 20 patients at a time.

Schwartz said there are two types of care that are critically needed. “One has to do with dealing with patients on a chronic basis, the other has to do with dealing with patients on a acute basis. Sometimes referred to as crisis intervention.”

Schwartz explained in the state, there are currently less than a handful of facilities addressing both acute and chronic care. “But there clearly is a shortage in our community here in Myrtle Beach. There is a clear need for in-house patient care for our behavioral health patients.”

If and when the state finally approves the request, Schwartz said the unit would be up and running by January or February of 2016.

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