It is no secret that Alabama consistently lags behind other states when it comes to assisting its citizens who are in need. Perhaps the best example of this attitude has recently arisen when it was disclosed that Alabama Psychiatric Services (APS), one of the oldest and largest mental health providers in the state will close its doors on February 13, 2015, leaving tens of thousands of patients without access to mental health care. Alabama, even before the APS announcement, ranked 49th of 50 in the nation in access to care in a report by Mental Health America.
Remember that Alabama has already slashed its mental health budget by 35% and has announced that state-run psychiatric hospitals will be closed. APS was one of the few mental health providers that accepted Blue Cross/Blue Shield, but that insurer reportedly shifted several members to plans with higher co-pays and deductibles, and reduced membership in a plan that had allowed APS to remain viable.
Now APS announces its closing, giving its patients and employees only 9 days notice. One can only imagine the difficulty the patients will have finding new providers promptly, and at an affordable cost. And what damage will be caused to the mental and emotional health of patients by such a disruption in care?
Alabama’s political leaders’ priorities are not in order. The mantra that we should all pull ourselves up by our bootstraps cannot continue at every turn, in every instance. In Alabama, 25% of the population suffers from mental illness and we already have a shortage of psychiatrists according to the National Alliance for Mental Illness. Now these patients are running out of places to turn for care.
This crisis is just the latest in our state, caused by short-sighted leaders, preaching conservatism to a fault, causing those who are most needful of assistance and treatment to do without. I pray that those in need of mental health treatment quickly find professionals who can provide the necessary assistance. Sadly, it will undoubtedly take time for patients to locate new providers, and more time to establish trusting relationships which are so crucial in strengthening the fragile mental and emotional well being of all those affected.