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Expanding Access for Those in Crisis

Today I want to talk about what we are doing in Arkansas to expand access to mental health services and for those in need of drug-addiction counseling.

In the two years since we transformed Medicaid coverage, the number of counselors has risen from 31 in 2017 to 207 this last year. That is an increase of 567 percent. The number of behavioral health agency sites has increased from 253 to 311.

What that means for Arkansas is that more people have quicker access to the professional assistance they need.

Arkansas has not been exempt from the devastating impact of opioid addiction that is stealing the future from tens of thousands of people around our nation. In addition to the obvious ill effects of the abuse of drugs and alcohol, that lifestyle often leads to mental-health issues. Arkansas is blessed with leaders in the Department of Human Services, the Department of Health, and the General Assembly who understand that we have to find creative ways to help our neighbors. They know that if we don’t act, the epidemic will swamp families and entire communities.

The goal of the 2017 Medicaid transformation was to expand counseling for drug addiction and broaden access to mental-health services. The transformation led to several improvements in the system. We eliminated the rule that limited the number of providers that Medicaid could reimburse for services. We increased the rate of reimbursement to increase the number of counselors. This leveled the playing field for the small service providers. 

The new rules also allowed counselors to work in the same building as doctors. This has improved the chance for successful treatment because a doctor is free to send a patient to a counselor down the hall rather than simply hope the patient will drive across town a week later to keep an appointment.

I talked about this tremendous growth at a news conference this week. I also announced that DHS has launched a helpline with trained staff members who will steer to the appropriate source those who are seeking help with mental-health issues and drug addiction.

The helpline complements Arkansas’s system of Crisis Stabilization Units, which offers a person in the midst of a mental-health crisis the option of immediate treatment rather than a trip to jail. Arrest isn’t always the best option for a person who is suffering a mental-health crisis. Staff members at the CSUs are trained to assess the needs of those in crisis, provide immediate aid, and then guide them to the appropriate help.

The success of our CSUs and the growth in the number of providers allows us to give more Arkansans a chance to improve their life. With the launch of the Mental Health and Addiction Services Support line, my hope is that our reach will expand faster and farther.

Our goal is to help Arkansans who are in distress to navigate their obstacles rather than add to their load with an arrest record or leave them to face their trouble alone.

As I have toured the state during natural disasters, I have seen over and over that we show up in huge numbers to rescue our neighbors. In that same spirit, we are showing up to help those who are suffering through a crisis of a different kind.

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