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State's Ability To Treat Mental Illness Questioned

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In earlier versions of this story we mistakenly referred to Medicare expansion.  It should have been Medicaid expansion.

On Monday, lawmakers in Raleigh were given an assessment of the state’s ability to treat those with mental illness and those seeking treatment for addiction.  And that assessment was not good. 

The lawmakers were members of a joint subcommittee tasked with examining North Carolina’s attempt to reform the state’s mental health system.  The assessment was given by Dr. Marvin Swarts, a psychiatrist with the Duke University Division of Social and Community Psychiatry.  He listed shortages of trained mental health professionals, weak crisis planning and a shortage of beds - places to treat mental health patients who need to be monitored by healthcare workers.

The national average is now 14 beds per 100,000 people.  North Carolina is down to eight per 100,000.  The state ranks 44th nationally in the availability of psychiatric beds.

Swarts pointed to another issue hampering mental health treatment statewide: the uninsured.  It's estimated some 37 percent of the mentally ill have no insurance.  That number could be cut in half if Medicare (Medicaid) is expanded in the state according to testimony heard today.    

The joint subcommittee has until March 11 to issue their report.