Washington DC mental health privatization sparks controversy

In Washington DC, public officials are attempting to privatize the provision of mental health care by transferring patients to private clinics and closing public clinics. This has sparked some controversy in the area.

According to The Washington Post, the city plans to close their six clinics and enter contracts with 30 private clinics by 2010. The city argues that this will save money, which will allow them to provide services for more people.

Critics are arguing that the public clinics provide a higher level of care than private clinics, who are worried about profit and the bottom line. They argue that doctors make less in private clinics and have a larger client load, prompting many doctors to leave.

Apparently DC was court ordered to provide mental health care through clinics after a 2001 court order which restricted confining patients to hospitals. The city says that it was never meant to be a perminant plan, and they are behind their orignial schedule to privatize the system.

Ken Duckworth, the medical director for the National Alliance on Mental Health, thinks this is a bad idea, asking “If the government doesn’t take care of the most severely ill people, who will?” It’s an interesting question that everyone in and around the field has been asking since the days of deinstitutionalization.  The real question is to what extent should the government be involved in the provision of healthcare versus paying for health care.

In West Virginia we have two hospitals that are owned and operated by the state. local services are provided through private non-profits throughout the state. Prestera serves Charleston and Huntington, United in Clarksburg, Eastridge in the Eastern Panhandle, and Westbrook in Parkersburg. So I’m kind of unfamilliar with the concept of public health care. I don know that private groups can do a good job with public money, so I’m not nearly as alarmed by this as some of the critics are. And if this frees up money to provide services for more poeple, I definately see it as a positive.

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