NEMO communities grapple with mental health cuts

Hannibal Regional Healthcare System is closing its outpatient mental health services, and some local patients aren't happy about it.

The system sent out letters to patients, staff and mental health providers to announce it will close by the end of this month.

Mary Celenze was diagnosed with manic depression with bipolar tendencies three to four years ago. Since then, she's been working with her psychiatrist at Hannibal Regional to get her medications just right.

Now, she says she'll have to find a new doctor in Quincy to manage her mental health.

"It's going to cost me a half a tank of gas -- a quarter tank each way. I can't get an appointment there until May 7th, and my last appointment with Dr. Spalding is the 13th of this month," Celenze said. "Starting with a new doctor all over from scratch with a doctor that has known my history for years. It's going to be very difficult."

Julie Leverenz serves as vice president of strategy and planning for Hannibal Regional Healthcare system.

She says the system has been and will continue to work with Preferred Family Healthcare, Inc., another mental health agency in Hannibal, to strengthen behavioral health services.

"We've been working for a number of years to try to bolster behavioral health services within our region. One of the things we've done is to reach out to other providers to try to determine what are the core competencies and strengths we have among all of the providers in our region, and how can we leverage those competencies to expand the resources available," Leverenz said.

Leverenz says the closure is the result of a complicated array of circumstances ... Missouri's decision not to expand Medicaid ... challenges with the Affordable Care Act ... and dropping reimbursements for providers like Hannibal Regional.

"But we have a group of providers who are working collaboratively to seek solutions, and I have a lot of confidence that we're going to begin to see some expansion of services in our region," Leverenz said.

Leverenz added that mental health providers cannot do this alone. "We've got to look to our state and our federal government and the reimbursement system to also bolster and strengthen the resources that are directed toward families with mental health issues," she explained.

Comprehensive Health and Mark Twain Behavioral Health in Hannibal also provide mental health services. But Celenze says she doesn't qualify for any of the services offered at those other mental health agencies.

"Not for me. Not that I have found. I've been on the phone ever since I got my letter trying to find something," Celenze said. She's concerned about other mental health patients as well.

"I'm frightened that they'll get lost between the cracks, and we'll have more problems because they won't have their medication. They have to see a doctor on a regular basis to get their medication, and if they don't have a doctor, they don't get their medication," Celenze added.

Leverenz says a coalition is now in the process of assessing the area's mental health resources. The coalition is made up of public administrators, private counselors and law enforcement.

KHQA spoke with at least one mental health agency in Hannibal to get reaction about Hannibal Regional's decision.

"There are so many needs in our community that currently aren't being met before Hannibal Regional closed its outpatient mental health department, so I certainly think it's gonna increase the pressure on the system to provide enough services for the patients in this area, Mark Twain Behavioral Health CEO Michael Cantrell said.

KHQA tried to gain some perspective on what's happening with mental health services throughout the state of Missouri.

Kim Gladstone is the vice president of BJC Behavioral Health in St. Louis.

"Mental health providers have the services, but we don't have the funding," she said. "A lot of good things are happening but we don't have money to do it. When we don't have Medicaid expansion, we could be doing so much more. The good news is more people are reaching out for help. That requires more money."

KHQA also called the Missouri Department of Mental Health, but that call was not returned.

You can find KHQA's complete interview with Leverenz by clicking here.

You can find KHQA's complete interview with Celenze by clicking here.