State to integrate care for mentally ill patients


POSTED: Friday, April 30, 2010

Two state agencies assured mentally ill patients in the Quest program yesterday that they should have a “;seamless”; transition from one department to the other when services are transferred this summer.

Officials from the Department of Health and Department of Human Services answered questions about the upcoming transfer for about 1,700 patients with mental illnesses in the Quest program.

Those patients whom the Health Department prefers to call “;behavioral health consumers”; are currently getting mental health care from the Department of Health and physical care from the Department of Human Services, which oversees the state's Medicaid program.

Quest provides health care for low-income people in the Medicaid program.

The Health Department says moving mental health Quest patients to Human Services will provide patients with total care from one agency.

William Sheehan, acting chief of the Health Department's Adult Mental Health Division, said studies have shown people with a mental illness are dying younger from physical problems than people without mental illness. That is because while they get care for mental problems, they fail to get care for physical ailments.

The change will be an improvement for those people on Quest, resulting in “;some immeasurable good about helping people remain as healthy as they can,”; said Michelle Hill, deputy director for behavioral health.

“;Our first effort here is to try to improve the lives of consumers,”; Hill said. “;We feel it becomes a better management issue for the state's perspective at large.”;

The transition will begin July 1 for clients with last names A through K. On Sept. 1 those with last names L through Z will transition to Human Services.

Lou Erteschik, an attorney with the Hawaii Disability Rights Center, said his biggest concern is about patients who will have to switch doctors.

“;That could be more problematic than any other benefit they think they're going to get,”; he said, adding there could be some “;destabilization”; of patients changing doctors.

“;Changing doctors and changing case managers can be a big deal,”; he said. “;It's still out if this is a good idea or a bad idea.”;

He supported the decision that nonmedical service—such as housing—would continue to be provided by the Department of Health's Adult Mental Health Division; providing it through the health plan would not have been realistic.

Hill said, “;We will make sure that no consumer faces any undue or potential threat to their well-being.”;

She said this is only about Quest members and not the Quest expanded access program.

The department said the changes are not to save money, because costs would be transferred to the Department of Human Services.