‘Disruptive’: S.C. Department of Mental Health opposing bill they foresee impeding it’s mental health services

Published: Mar. 31, 2022 at 7:51 PM EDT
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HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - The S.C. Department of Mental Health is pushing back against a senate bill that aims to split up the department of health and environmental control.

They say it will bring unnecessary disruptions when it comes to responding to mental health emergencies.

The department of mental health has 16 community-based outpatient mental health centers, with its clinics serving all 46 counties in the state.

Their services include 24/7 mobile crisis response for families.

The department has always been a separate agency from DHEC altogether.

But that could change if Senate Bill 2 makes its way to the governor’s desk.

S.2 was introduced as a way for lawmakers to alleviate some of the demands on the DHEC.

If S.2 passes, DHEC will be dissolved and restructured into two agencies: The Department of Environmental Services and the Department of Behavioral and Public Health.

The bill proposes the new behavioral and public health agency oversees three different divisions:

  • the Division of Public Health
  • the Division of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services
  • the Division of Mental Health

This means the passing of S.2 will put the department of mental health under the umbrella of DHEC’s new Behavioral and Pubic Health agency.

This has some workers raising major concerns.

Deborah Heller serves as the vice-chair of the board for the Waccamaw Center for Mental Health.

The director of mental health oversees the center.

Heller says their organization has no problem with lawmakers wanting to re-organize DHEC.

But she says the department of mental health doesn’t need to be a part of it.

“By re-organizing mental health at this time when the demand is great in our whole country and when awareness is growing every day, is going to be very disruptive to the department. It’s going to take the focus away from the staff who have already been under a tremendous amount of pressure to meet [patients] needs.”

Heller says the mental health department has been servicing nearly 100,000 patients every year, stating it makes no sense to disrupt a ship now that isn’t sinking.

“If it ain’t broke, why fix it,” Heller said. “There will be more layers to go through. I think the services will be diluted. I think the resources will be diluted because they’ll be spread out more between three divisions under another separate organization. The department of mental health is working really well, meeting the needs of their communities. To go in there and reorganize that and try to fix it when it’s really not broken, doesn’t seem to be practical.”

Heller references the ‘SHaPE South Carolina Task Force’ which was set up by DHEC, stating it looked at ways to best deliver public health and environmental services to South Carolinians.

“They didn’t even recommend the department of mental health be re-organized,” Heller said. “The other thing to look at, there were no fiscal and functional impact studies done. So we don’t even know what this is going to cost.”

WMBF News reached out to DHEC about the mental health department’s concerns. DHEC’s Director, Dr. Edward Simmer, provided the following statement to our news team:

“DHEC is charged with implementing the laws as they are passed by our state legislature and as they relate to the agency. We have a strong management team that will work collaboratively with DMH and DAODAS as appropriate and our other state agencies and private partners to implement any changes to the structure of health and environmental protection in South Carolina that are approved by the Legislature. Working together, our teams will implement these changes in a way that enhances the services our agencies provide and ultimately improves the health of every South Carolinian as well as the environment in which they live.”

S.2 has already passed in the Senate and is currently making its way through the house.

The department of mental health is calling on legislators to make a recommendation that will remove their organization from the bill altogether.

WMBF News is waiting to hear back from house lawmakers about whether they’re taking the department of mental health’s request under consideration.

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