LCMH Psychiatric Triage funding gone

By Theresa Schmidt - bio | email

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Funding is now gone for the Psychiatric Triage and 23 hour observation center at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital. It means going back to the old ways when police encounter a mentally ill person in crisis.

For two and a half years the psychiatric triage center has been operating in conjunction with the emergency room at the hospital. Staff work with police specially trained in crisis intervention, to assess mentally ill people brought there. But now the $1.2 million dollars to fund the program is gone.

Mental Health Specialist Terence Riley considers it a tragedy. "Once they're brought to hospitals that do not serve their needs, they'll either be released back into the community or else they'll be warehoused in the emergency room until some room for them is found somewhere in the state."

It means there are no longer beds for those who could benefit from a 23 hour observation period which is vital especially when doctors are trying to distinguish between mental illness and drug or alcohol abuse. Dr. Nick Bergeron works in the E.R. "We're trying to see patients that are critically ill and have conditions that need more immediate treatment, whereas, these patients need time. Not a lot of time, but maybe 23 hours. Usually, within 23 hours the alcohol has worn off, or the drugs have worn off, and now you can actually have a conversation with these people and decide what they truly need."

Crisis systems manager Dick Tanous says more mentally ill people are likely to end up in jail. "You either bring them to an emergency room where they are given some type of medication and immediately released or they deal with them by incarcerating them in the local jails."

Tanous says local officials are doing what they can to encourage the state to rescue the program.

Since the program started about 6,650 people have been seen in the psychiatric triage center. Of those 26 percent were admitted into the 23 hour observation unit.  Tanous says about half of those were brought in by local police. The triage center and 23 hour observation unit were first funded with federal block grant money.

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