California Seeks to Improve Mental Health System for Seniors
California's seniors "for years" have received "inadequate care" through the state's mental health system and the situation will only get worse as the number of seniors with depression is expected to grow from 67,000 to 1.2 million by 2025, the Sacramento Bee reports. Dr. Dilip Jeste, chief of the Division of Geriatric Psychiatry at the University of California-San Diego, said, "The current state of care and treatment for many of the elderly people with mental illness is embarrassingly poor." Part of the problem is that many seniors are incorrectly diagnosed, leading to either a lack of or improper treatment. Lack of treatment can result in "expensive and unnecessary nursing home care, repeated trips to emergency rooms or psychiatric hospitals and wasted time by law enforcement, plus the hidden human suffering," the Bee reports. But even when seniors seek help, "there are barriers," the Bee notes, stating that "California's underfunded mental health system relies on patients going to neighborhood centers to seek help." Furthermore, mental health treatment can be more expensive under Medicare, requiring a 50% copayment instead of the usual 20% copayment. Seniors with dementia cannot receive public assistance as the illness is "specifically excluded by the publicly funded mental health system." Sandra Naylor-Goodwin, executive director of the California Institute for Mental Health, said that the problems are "not going to go away. It's going to get bigger and bigger, and the state needs to address this head on."
Solutions on the Horizon?
The state is taking some steps to improve the system, beginning with a $2 million allocation to fund pilot programs to help seniors secure proper treatment. In addition, the state is seeking private funds for a statewide depression screening program. County mental health directors also are trying to develop "more effective" ways to reach seniors with mental health problems. In Sacramento, officials have applied for a grant that would establish five geriatric teams to work through Adult Protective Services and also are looking for state funds to establish a medical psychiatric unit that would help mentally ill individuals with serious physical health problems (Weaver Teichert, Sacramento Bee, 12/6).