The Importance of a Mental Health Safety Net
In all communities, there are places where people with illnesses can go
foressential care if they lack health insurance or have minimal coverage. These critical points of health care access are referred to as “safety net” providers. Safety net providers exist exclusively to provide critical health care to the
underprivileged in our communities and are very important in maintaining healthcare delivery equilibrium. Safety net access points are paid for through taxpayers dollars as an implicit bond that enlightened communities make to deliver on the obligation to provide basic healthcare to all its citizens- regardless of ability to pay. For over a decade, the Community Service Boards of Georgia have been the public mental health safety net for hundreds of thousands of Georgians. Today, these critical mental health safety net access organizations are at serious risk!
A true healthcare safety net is really about access. Safety net services cannot be purchased “just-in-time” because of the implicit risk that they might not be available when needed. Communities fully fund other essential safety net services like police and firemen because it is understood that such services must always be at the ready to protect. We do not expect to “purchase” these services as we need them; we expect them to be ever available. This is the basic conundrum of safety net services- they must always be in place and easily accessible. This type of flexible capacity is costly, yet essential, if any safety net is to be relevant. Why should the mental healthcare safety net be considered optional?
Some have argued that a community has no need to support such healthcare capacity and rather should make available a pool of money that could be utilized to cover care at “any willing provider” through a fee for service system. While on its surface this may seem a reasonable notion; it fails to understand that money alone cannot assure access. There must be a place, designated and recognized as the “safety net” to serve as the focal point for essential care in a community. The safety net provider must be funded, staffed for capacity and designated for the sole purpose of providing care for the unfunded in our community. Without this clear designation and funding, economic market forces will drive a provider toward revenue maximization and away from basic community service. In the end, our community cannot allow this to occur.
The Dekalb CSB has existed to provide these essential mental health safety net services to the growing population of Dekalb County. Serving 12,000 underprivileged Dekalb citizens per year, the Dekalb CSB is the essential to the community’s healthcare equilibrium. Any contraction of these mental health safety net services threatens to have an impact across our broader community as individuals without means scramble for essential care.
Let us take example from states who have long ago realized that an investment in the health of their communities is an investment in their people. Let’s advocate for growing and strengthening our safety net infrastructure rather than dismantling it. Let us finally be clear: safety net providers must be recognized, cherished and nourished if communities are to remain strong and productive.
In Dekalb County, the Dekalb CSB is your safety net!