Some cities are experimenting with "respite centers" to better accommodate the needs of the mentally ill and avoid potentially lengthy and costly hospital stays, StateLine has reported.
Such respite centers do not provide healthcare services; instead they act as a pressure valve for those whose mental health issues may push them to the brink of a crisis. The facilities provide a warm and welcoming environment and some mental health counseling.
"A hospital is the last place you want to be if your life is unraveling," Steve Coe, head of Community Access, which operates a respite center in New York City, told StateLine. "They put you in a room, check your blood pressure and walk away and leave you for hours. You need to put your life back together, not be held in a place where you can't do anything or talk to anyone."
Another alternative is even worse: Jail or prison, the Courier-Post reported, prompting officials in New Jersey to seek other ways to deal with the issue.
Community Access' respite center is called Parachute NYC, and was launched by the city of New York two years ago. It received a $17.6 million innovation grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Parachute's goal is ambitious: Save $50 million in hospital costs.
In addition to the project in Manhattan, New York state has also expanded its mental health funding by $60 million a year in order to fund additional respite services for adults and children.
However, the approach does not work for every person who has a mental illness. Some people need medication and structure. And as a whole, the majority of Americans who need mental health services do not have access to it. Despite the passage of a federal mental health parity law in 2008, only 2 in 5 Americans say they have access to mental health services. And even among those with health insurance, some large companies will systematically deny their claims for care.