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Loss of St. Mary's mental health beds a blow, but police say it won't affect crisis situations

Herald & Review - 1/25/2023

Jan. 24—DECATUR — Health experts said the loss of inpatient behavioral health services from HSHS St. Mary's Hospital is a blow to Decatur, but police encountering the mentally ill on the streets said it won't affect how they do their jobs.

Patrol officers often bring those they believe are suffering psychotic episodes or other mental health problems to St. Mary's where they can be admitted voluntarily or involuntarily for treatment.

Macon County Sheriff Jim Root said police officers will still be able to do that, even after the inpatient services go away. "I got a call from (St. Mary's) CEO Theresa Rutherford to explain that those services will still be available," Root added.

The sheriff said, however, that such patients will be evaluated at the hospital in the future but not treated there. "They will do their diagnosis or assessment and then either make a decision to find them a place for treatment or release them," Root said.

Decatur Memorial Hospital does not offer inpatient behavioral health services.

The issue of where alternative treatment venues might be and the protocols for getting patients the help they need are now being worked out by experts like Mary E. Garrison, president and CEO of Heritage Behavioral Health Center.

Garrison said Heritage, which deals with some 6,000 patients a year, was the largest provider of outpatient behavioral health services in the Decatur community. She said she was now in consultation with St. Mary's to forge a path ahead for the future.

"So now we need to figure out with St. Mary's how we are going to bridge that gap," she said of the loss of in-patient beds. "My hope is, as with any individual, that we could get them into our outpatient care for mental health services and wrap our services around them."

That still leaves the problem of finding beds for those for whom there is no alternative, which Garrison said presented challenges. "Well, it's going to be a difficult time," she added. "We have problems across the state and the country of access to beds for behavioral health, and so not having those beds in our community is not ideal."

Garrison said she could also empathize with a hospital having to make tough budget choices. "I very much know that St. Mary's didn't want to have to make this decision," she added.

"But there are other things in play that make all this very difficult, like reimbursement rates; there is just not enough funding in mental health."

It's not all bad news, however. Garrison said other initiatives, already under way, are helping deal with mental health problems in the community. She cited the example of the Local Crisis Response Team which provides experts available 24/7 that police can call out to assist with mental health situations.

"We have a really strong relationship with Sheriff Root and Decatur Police Chief Shane Brandel," said Garrison. "So that framework is already in place, which is good."

Contact Tony Reid at (217) 421-7977. Follow him on Twitter: @TonyJReid


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