Wake Partners with State, UNC to Study Behavioral and Mental Health Needs

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In fiscal year 2007-08, more than 641,000 people received some behavioral or mental health help in Wake County. But many more didn’t get any help at all.

Wake County is looking for ways to help those with behavioral and mental health issues — and find out how much of those services may be needed in the future.

Together with the UNC Health Care System and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, the county will hire a consultant to evaluate the situation and figure out a plan.

Behavioral health includes mental health disorders, developmental disabilities and substance abuse. Demand for such services are up, especially in Wake County, the second fastest-growing county in the state. The county’s population is expected to hit 1 million by 2013.

Kevin FitzGerald, UNC Health Care chief of staff, told County Commissioners Monday the goal is to find out what needs to be done to improve behavioral health care at a time when those needs are increasing.

“We felt we needed to do some sort of review to figure out what the current gaps are as well as what some of the gaps in the future might be,” he said. “This is a very complicated problem. Getting the right kind of solution … is a tricky thing to do and it’s a tricky thing to do well.”

In the past few years, Wake County has opened two behavioral health facilities: WakeBrook and Holly Hill. At the same time, the economy has continued to decline, and both the state and federal governments are changing health care programs and regulations.

There are gaps in coverage, FitzGerald said, and many people still turn to expensive and inefficient emergency rooms where they cannot get the right help.

“This is time for key reform,” FitzGerald said. “With all that in place, what’s missing? What needs to happen so those services are optimally used?”

County Commissioners, who discussed the plan in a work session Monday, expect a report outlining where health dollars are spent, whether it’s the best use of funding, current demand and future estimated demand.

The report will also examine how Wake County fits in with other regional options, such as Central Regional Hospital, a psychiatric facility in Butner.

The county has issued request for proposals to national firms. The RFPs are due Sept. 6 with a study recommendation back by November or December this year.


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