February 1st, 2010

Consumers rate their satisfaction on N.H.’s mental health services

In a new research report, consumers of New Hampshire’s 10 community mental health centers (CMHCs) have shown that although they are overall pleased with the services that they receive, there are many areas where the system still falls short.

In the second consecutive year of this survey, the Institute on Disability (IOD) at the University of New Hampshire asked adult, youth and the families of consumers of the health centers to provide feedback on the level of satisfaction that they had in working with them. Questions were asked about their satisfaction with the services themselves, access to those services, participation in treatment, quality of treatment received, cultural sensitivity and outcomes.

The surveys were done under the auspices of the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services (and funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), which contracted with the IOD as part of a federally mandated program to oversee community mental health centers across the country.

The reports will give administrators and others a broad overview of both the strengths of the health centers and areas where they need improvement.

“On the state and federal level, these reports are used to educate administrators and lawmakers about the issues facing the mental health centers and their consumers,” says IOD researcher and report author Peter Antal, Ph.D. “A number of the directors of the centers also used this information to conduct strategic planning for the coming year.”

The survey had a strong response rate with nearly 46 percent of adult consumers, 33 percent of youths age 14 to 17, and 40 percent of family members of children and youth consumers submitting their responses.

In this year’s survey, consumers gave generally high ratings on the social, personal and clinical services that they received. The survey said that 81 to 88 percent of the consumers believe that the CMHC services have a positive impact on their lives. In comments attached to the surveys, consumers rated the mental health professionals as highly qualified and appreciated the flexibility of the services.

Among the youngest consumers, the centers were ranked very high for their cultural sensitivity, with ratings as high as 96 percent in some areas. Consumers also noted that they had experienced a decreased need for police involvement and increased school attendance with the younger group.

The main issues outlined include a problem with social isolation among adults with only 57 percent of adults reporting that they felt they belonged in their home communities. In addition, 38 percent of adults reported poor physical health over the month prior to the survey and only 62 percent were asked about or referred to services for alcohol and drug treatment.

A need for better integrated care across social services was another finding of the report. Nearly one-third of respondents reported that their mental health provider did not coordinate care with their primary care provider while one in 20 said they did not have a regular primary care provider.

Only 17 percent of the families whose children are involved in the justice system felt that any steps were taken to incorporate their child’s mental health issues.

The low employment rates (of only 20 percent) and high poverty levels, with 84 percent of adults earning less than $30,000 per year, raise even greater concern in this time of economic difficulty for many Americans.

“The results of the survey clearly highlight both the strengths of our system as well as areas that need to be improved upon,” Erik G. Riera, administrator for the Bureau of Behavioral Health, stated in a release. “The importance of the provider system in facilitating recovery from mental illness…is particularly important, as is the role consumers play in directing the focus of care.”

One of the biggest problems that the mental health centers will face in trying to improve service will be with budget cuts. With shortfalls in state budgets across the country, New Hampshire is not the only one who will see reductions in financing for mental health care. This comes at the same time as most areas are seeing an increase in the need for services.

“The current budgetary challenges we are facing, in the context of unprecedented increases in the numbers of people needing our services, makes it more important than ever to focus on the system and develop creative solutions that will not only improve services but allow the system to survive in the wake of constrained funding,” Reira added.

By Catherine Robertson Souter

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