Number of beds for mental health treatment shrinking, State using different methods

Posted at: 01/16/2013 11:28 PM
By: Lynette Adams

The mental health provision of New York State's new gun law is raising concerns about the quality of mental health treatment.
Mental health professionals say the emphasis should really be on better treatment programs.

However, they say the number of treatment beds for patients has been shrinking steadily over the past 20 years, so better treatment will be difficult to manage.

On Tuesday News10NBC spoke with mental health professionals and learned 20 years ago there were as may as 2,000 treatment beds throughout the county and today there may be about 100.

A spokesperson for the New York State Department of Mental Health said these numbers aren't quite correct.

News10NBC is told the State is treating the mentally ill differently, not in hospitals, but in the community. The State says this is more effective.

News10NBC also learned a number of mentally ill people are walking the streets and often end up at homeless shelters like the Open Door Mission.

On any given night the Open Door Mission can feed 70 people, and about 40 of them will also spend the night.

News10NBC talked to Dave Appleton, the Crisis Center Supervisor at the Open Door Mission to find out who is coming through the doors of local homeless shelters like the Open Door Mission and why.

“We're seeing a lot more people come in, in a lot worse conditions,” he said.

A spokesperson for the State Department of Mental Health said times have changed. The State has moved to a community-based treatment plan, unlike in the 1950's when there were tens of thousands of people in mental institutions statewide.

In 2011 in Monroe county 6,235 people sought mental health treatment. Out of those 177 were seen in an emergency department, only 356 became hospital patients and 4,500 people were treated as outpatients. The remainder were treated in a residential or supportive living program.

When asked if he thought mental health treatment is working based on what he sees coming through the door on a regular basis, Appleton said both yes and no.

“A lot of times the community is what got them into trouble in the first place with self-medication, with the violence, with dysfunctional relationships,” said Appleton. “Sometimes it's better to take them out of the community and sometimes what we're seeing, it's not helping because they go home to the same conditions.”

Appleton is careful to say he is not a mental health expert. What he shared is based on what he sees everyday. Before working for the Open Door Mission he spent 17 years as a bible teacher.