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Sweet Tea and Mental Health Transformation: Page 2 of 2

Sweet Tea and Mental Health Transformation: Page 2 of 2

The sad irony is that we have good tools to treat mental disorders successfully but less than half of those with mental illness get any treatment at all. Those who do are often forced to navigate a tangled maze that leaves them confused and feel-ing even more like outsiders. The truly integrated system we are planning here in Charlotte means that providers across all medical disciplines will gain a better understanding of how mental health affects their patients and, ultimately, the fiscal bottom line.

In April 2013, we broke ground for a new 66-bed psychiatric hospital. We’re building this hospital without state dollars . . . and without immediate plans to turn a profit. We’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do. This hospital is part of a vast new infrastructure that positions behavioral health as an integral part of a complete health care system. As grand as this plan is, it is historically consistent with Carolinas HealthCare System’s commitment to offer quality care to everyone—regardless of age, race, or financial or demographic status. One of every 4 people needs mental health care at some time in his or her life. If we ignore this need, the shock wave that results upsets the entire health care system. We’re betting that our investment in excellent behavioral health care throughout a large system will make good fiscal sense in the long run, particularly in a value- and outcome-based environment.

I could have (perhaps should have) waited until I’d fully acclimated to shout about this. The work of health care reform is daunting no matter where you are. But like the tea, there are unexpected surprises here in Charlotte. The first one came during my orientation program to this giant organization. Along with a hundred other new hires, I packed bags for hungry kids with donated food. Later I was in a breakout group focused on the company pillar of humility. Humility is generally a good thing in health care systems, but in mental health care—where our most corrosive villain is stigma—humility may be more valuable than gold. At my orientation, I saw Carolinas HealthCare System’s dedication to its patients firsthand. Clearly the change that is happening here will not be “top down” but instead driven by the needs of the community.

Across our nation, mental health care funding and resources are either slashed to the bone or nonexistent. Yet, at the same time, there is a unique opportunity available right now for any and all who want to tackle reform. Driven by national tragedies and the unsustainable nature of the current system, the American public is talking about mental health like we haven’t since the 1960s. Carolinas HealthCare System is not the only organization building a hospital and committing major resources to mental health care, but it is one of the precious few. To all those who are contemplating investment and doubling down on the bet that excellent mental health care will drive the bottom line, who want to turn the prevailing national story of the lack of resources and the steady drumbeat of hospital bed closures on its head, I say the news from Charlotte is like a refreshing jolt of sweet tea.

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