Gateway Behavioral Health Services in Pembroke has closed its doors for all but one day a week due to budget concerns.
Gateway is a treatment center for those with mental and physical disabilities. This includes professional counseling for depression and drug and alcohol addiction.
The Pembroke facility has been faced with low enrollment which is reportedly a key factor in the downsizing. The majority of the Pembroke staff have been either outsourced or terminated.
The Pembroke Gateway will remain open on Wednesday and is slated to continue to feature diagnostic assessments, doctor assessments, case management, and counseling on that one day. Gateway Administrative Operations Director Barbara Myers said money and a lack of government support was the reason for the cutback in services.
"Managed care has certainly impacted us," Myers said. "We’ve done just about everything we can to cut costs, but now it’s to the point where it affects the services we can provide.
This drastic scaling down in services has some Bryan County agencies concerned.
"This is serious," said Bryan County United Way Director Janice Blunt. "This isn’t like a grocery store or gas station closing down. I understand that agencies have their own budgets and mission statements, but where do the people who were getting treated there go now?
"There was already a serious gap in mental health services in Bryan County, which is now more like a gaping hole," Blunt said. "This is a call to community leaders to decide where to pick up the slack in this area."
Blunt added that county leaders need to look at what other counties are doing and how their mental health programs are being funded.
"The United Way will certainly be at the frontline when this issue comes to the table, but we need to see where the chips fall with this," she said.
Bryan County Family Connection Director Tara Jennings said she is concerned with the aspect of the potential decrease in the services of drug and alcohol addiction counseling, which she said is an underlying problem to many of the problems in the county.
She also said it appears as if, despite the fact no official announcement has been declared, that the transitions at the Pembroke office are already completed with no room for negotiation.
"If I thought there was a chance to change it, Bryan County Family Connection would be working toward it," she said. "I’m concerned that we have not been given a heads up and therefore have not had a chance to transition these clients."
County administrator Phil Jones brought to light some recent legislative changes that may have led to the demise of the Pembroke Gateway.
"They (legislators) continue to change the law and continue to spread out the allowed outsourcing for funded care, so that it makes it nearly impossible for facilities such as Gateway to operate," Jones said. "The sad fact of the matter is that what we may be seeing here is they are adjusting to this by cutting their losses in the low enrollment areas that are already struggling financially. The Pembroke facility does fall into this category."
"This isn’t just happening to us, it’s happening all over the state," Myers said.
She pointed to fellow behavioral health providers Pineland and Fatilla who have closed down facilities in neighboring counties for the same reason.
She also spoke of the general state of the behavioral health industry which is "under stress right now" and of how Michael Moore’s recent film "Sicko", which attempts to depict an inadequate U.S. health care system, hits home in regard to this situation.
"We’ve been forced to remain open in only the more populated areas due to financial restrictions," she said. "On one hand, there hasn’t been a governmental reimbursement rate in ten years, and on the other hand costs have gone up every year. We’re not a state agency. We’re just like any other business; if there’s no money to keep the doors open, then we have to close."
Myers the doors to the Gateway facilities in neighboring counties are open to all Bryan County residents who may require further care.
She also said those on Medicaid are eligible to receive free transportation to a nearby Gateway facility. Myers said Gateway has posted signs on the Pembroke facility and said the Effingham County Gateway can be contacted at 368-3502 for further information.
"Existing consumers won’t be left out," said Myers. "We’re doing the best we can under trying circumstances. I hope the public understands that these changes are something we are not taking lightly. If you want full time managed behavioral care to continue in your area, you need to speak with legislators about making a change."