The Role of Community Mental Health Centers as Rural Safety Net Providers


Investigates the extent to which those organizations formerly designated as community mental health centers (CMHCs) currently act as a rural mental health safety net, e.g., provide mental health services for free or at reduced charges to rural populations not covered by public or private insurance or grants. Findings: Based on three comparative case studies, CMHCs continue to believe that it is within their mission to act as a mental health safety net, but all three also acknowledged that their priority population is now serious and persistent mental illness (SPMI) adults and seriously emotionally disturbed (SED) children. Their ability to serve indigent clients who do not fall into these categories depends on their ability to cross-subsidize such services with funds designated for their priority populations. These providers were also able to fund some safety net services with grant funds made available through federal and regional programs, often targeted to outreach and prevention. In Minnesota and Oregon, county government and county funded social services also supplemented the safety net in meaningful ways. Lacking such county involvement, the Maine CMHC was forced to use waiting lists to manage the demand for free care. We conclude that county funding and grant writing are two ways that CMHCs have been able to plug the otherwise widening hole in the rural mental health safety net. Based on the findings, the report recommends an explicit discussion of the mental health safety net, both urban and rural, using the Institute of Medicine's report on America's Health Care Safety Net as a model. Also recommended are outreach programs to facilitate access to services for rural residents experiencing stress, depression and anxiety, and a shift from diagnosis-specific funding to the use of a family systems approach for those thus referred.

Maine Rural Health Research Center
David Hartley, Donna Bird, David Lambert, John Coffin