There will be one less outpatient facility for mental health and counseling services in the Rhinelander area next year, as Community Mental Health Services will close their doors Jan. 1.
Community Mental Health Services referred media questions regarding the closing to Erv Teichmiller, a past director of the facility.
The inpatient halfway house, for the chronically mentally ill, as well as Kids in Need, a program for runaway kids, will continue to operate.
A letter to current clients notified them that the facility will no longer be providing services, and if they wished to continue to receive mental health counseling, they would need to contact either the Human Service Center, or another provider in the community.
Teichmiller said some of the therapists would likely be moving to one of the other providers. He said there are five therapists at the facility, most of whom work part-time.
"The clients may be able to continue with their therapist," he said, noting the fee structure, depending on the clinic, could change.
He said the closing is due to lack of funding, which comes from a variety of sources, including patient fees, insurance, and human services contracts.
"There's a limited number of client fees, persons who can pay for the service themselves," he said. "In this area, there's not a lot of wealth. Most people did not have the resources to pay for their own therapy."
Another source of funding was insurance payments, but Teichmiller said fewer insurance companies are paying for mental health services.
"There's just less and less insurance available, because there are fewer and fewer companies providing insurance, or have found ways not to include mental health services as an insurance coverage. Or the insurance that people have, have high deductibles, which means they have to meet the deductibles before they can get any service from a contract."
The Human Services Center, funded by state and county resources, was the other source of funding, but Teichmiller said that funding became harder and harder for patients to qualify for.
"They were insisting that people meet their deductible if they did have insurance, even though they qualified based on their income," he said, "which is kind of ludicrous. If you had a $5,000 deductible and you had mental health care, you'd have to meet your deductible before you could get service provided by that contract, which meant that you didn't get any service, because you couldn't afford it."
He said scaling back available funding and services for those looking for outpatient care only saves money in the short-term, as it increases dependency on more costly inpatient care.
"It doesn't make sense to reduce the services available to keep people out of the hospital, and then be unhappy because your inpatient costs are going up," he said.
The clinic, which has been in existence since 1986, and served an average of 100 people per month, including couples and families, and provided outpatient services for those suffering from post traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, adjustment issues, or abuse. They also cared for adolescents who are depressed, who are acting out, and people with relationship problems, and significant illnesses such as schizophrenia or paranoid issues.
Teichmiller is concerned that there are only a few others that provide similar services, and those are also limited in funding and contracts. He pointed out that those on the low end of the economic scale have to pay for basic needs first, like housing, gas, and food.
"The ability to pay for the services is a real challenge. Those folks, if they don't have access to mental health services, if they have a child with attention deficit, or if they're severely depressed, or if they've gone through an abusive relationship...they don't get better by wishing it away. They do need counseling. They oftentimes need a limited regimen of medication. If they don't have access to the services, then they get worse," he said.
Veterans, their families, and extended families, are another population Teichmiller cited as in need of mental health assistance.
"Their family members may not be covered by the Veterans Administration," he said. "Even those services are very limited."
He said many clients are people maintaining full time jobs, paying taxes, who just may need some outpatient services for a time. "They've got to stay well. It's not just physical wellness, but emotional and relationship wellness," he said.
Teichmiller hasn't been the executive director at the center for more than five years, but he remains proud of the work they did.
"I want to celebrate the 26 years that staff have worked in Community Mental Health," he said. "They worked with very little wage. They worked with hardly ever a raise, very few benefits, but they've been loyal, and committed, and have provided just excellent care and services for people who have had mental health challenges, and I'm proud of them and proud of that program."
He summed up the effect of the closing of Community Mental Health Services on the community.
"All this means is that there will be fewer services available to the community, and that's the major problem," he said.
His concern for the availability of mental health services extends beyond the community, especially in light of recent tragic events.
"As a society, I understand we're in an economic downturn, but at the same time, we need to have a greater sense of priority that we'll take care of people so that we can keep a healthy society. What happened just recently in Connecticut is something none of us ever wish happens in our community, but it could just as easily happen when someone is not provided services," he said.
Karla Wotruba may be reached at email@example.com.
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