As Louisianas legislative session ends June 23, four recently passed mental-healthcare reform bills could provide some much-needed relief to the states hospitals and crowded emergency rooms.
Last week, state senators passed legislation that would create regionally focused crisis receiving centers to triage patients for the right course of treatment in an effort to reduce the burden on hospital emergency departments. Introduced by physician Sen. David Heitmeier (D-New Orleans), the bill is the fourth component of Republican Gov. Bobby Jindals $89 million mental-healthcare reform package, said Sybil Richard, deputy secretary of health at the states Department of Health and Hospitals.
We found that that the bed issue is not the issueits building a continuum of care so that people along the way have access to appropriate care, Richard said. Its wrong to think everyone belongs in a hospital for intense, acute treatment.
Just six months into his administration, Jindal has received high praise from healthcare providers and advocates, who describe him as someone with the ability to bring together lawmakers from both political parties. Proof of that can be found in the four mental-health bills: One was introduced by a fellow Republican, while Democrats introduced the other three.
He came on board already thinking of proposals that would foster growth of the mental-health arena, said Evelyn Nolting, chief executive officer and managing director at River Oaks Hospital, a 126-bed free-standing behavioral health facility in New Orleans that is part of the Universal Health Services system.
According to Nolting, Louisiana hospitals could stand to benefit significantly from the recent legislation.
The DHH will be setting up licensing standards for crisis centers designed to ease the strain of emergency rooms, Nolting said. Thats the beauty of crisis intervention. By having these services for people, it enables ERs, as well as the acute-care hospitals and behavioral health facilities, to actually provide care for those individuals that need it. When the state partners and works through these things, it serves us all.
Jindals proposal tackles treatment and services, not insurance coverage, which is the focus of national mental-health-parity legislation currently stalled on Capitol Hill. Jindal announced reforms to the states behavioral health system in March.
In addition to the crisis receiving centers, the package includes three other key components: Nicolas Law, a bill modeled after New Yorks Kendra Law, to ensure that people with mental illness and a history of high-risk behavior receive the treatment they need to avoid harming themselves or others; the establishment of more human-services districts, which are governed by local communities that are responsible for delivery services for mental health, addictive disorders and developmental disabilities; and a telemedicine portion that would use advanced technology to evaluate, observe and recommend treatment for people in crisis if there is no one available for an in-person evaluation.
Meanwhile, representatives from the Department of Health and Hospitals, the Louisiana State University Health System and Tulane University on June 17 announced revised plans for a new $1.2 billion academic medical center in New Orleans. The facility, a joint project between LSU and the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department, will have 424 beds, including 60 for psychiatric care.
John Matessino, president and CEO of the Louisiana Hospital Association, attributed the mental healthcare legislations successful and swift passage to Jindals administration having a plan, and the new Legislature having a different mindset.