Addressing the behavioral health tsunami

June 29, 2023

Behavioral health care, or the lack thereof, intersects with almost every dimension of our lives. One does not have to look much further than a circle of family and friends to recall a story that highlights the hard and enduring impact that a lack of accessible and compassionate behavioral health care is having on the communities in our state, daily. Suicide and violence are now the leading causes of death amongst American children. How did we get here?

To be able to reconstruct all of the evidence, it would almost take an entire season of CSI Miami, but the four major suspects are: a broken reimbursement model; a chronic lack of providers in the field; a large imbalance of available providers across the state; and an inadequate, aging and/or outdated infrastructure. Everything being considered, the results are a broken system that is unable to meet even the basic demands for access and continuity of care for our community.

Unfortunately, this is just the base state – sort of like the waters receding to expose the ocean floor as a prelude to the tsunami waves hitting. And just to be clear, especially for our youth, a tsunami of behavioral health needs looms before us, gathering even more strength due to the unprecedented challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic years.

Just consider the following: According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly half of adolescents, defined as the period between 10 and 19 years of age, are facing mental health challenges, such as anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Often these young people have a difficult time getting timely and accessible treatment when they need it most – and the impact can be very real. Suicide rates amongst adolescents increased nationally by 47% between 2007 and 2018 and 56% in South Carolina, as reported in the National Vital Statistics Report, Vol. 69, No. 11, Sept. 11, 2020). We must do something different to prepare for the impact of these waves if our communities hope to survive and thrive once the waters recede.

MUSC’s mission is to preserve and optimize human life in South Carolina. We cannot address these waves of need alone, but we can be a leader that helps, with partners, to make a real difference. Taking meaningful and tangible steps to begin addressing this challenge is our common purpose.

That purpose is the driver behind our systematic, strategic approach to partnership and an elevated presence across the state – because of who we are, and what we do, MUSC is able to bring many tools to the table with our local partners to address issues that block best patient care and the sustainability necessary for critical access. To that end, we recently announced that we are moving forward on an innovative and comprehensive behavioral health facility with six collaborating institutions and government agencies, backed by $100 million from the state Legislature.

MUSC is excited to have the opportunity to help to lead this effort with our state and local partners, and it’s this new kind of public-private collaboration that’s going to enable us all to succeed in disrupting the behavioral and mental health tsunami overshadowing the continued success of our great state. This project, which will begin in the Pee Dee, has been a years-long lift, and the support of the late S.C. Sen. Hugh Leatherman Sr., Gov. Henry McMaster, Speaker of the S.C. House Murrell Smith Jr. and our state Legislature, S.C. Health and Human Services director Robby Kerr, in addition to our MUSC Board of Trustees, was crucial to getting us to this moment.

This first-of-its-kind facility, which will be located on the current site of the MUSC Health Cedar Street property in the heart of downtown Florence, offers what we think will be a much better approach for helping patients and families coping with mental illness, substance abuse and other behavioral health concerns. And getting to this point has been much more than merely having a vision … it’s been about teamwork and a core commitment by all of the partners to put the needs of the Florence and surrounding Pee Dee communities first.

And we’re just getting started. From outpatient services and crisis stabilization to inpatient services when needed, I predict that this hub, this new way of providing access to behavioral health care, will serve as a model, a template, for the entire state and demonstrate to those we serve that this new way of delivering care will always put the needs of patients and their families first. Because at the end of the day, again, our purpose remains to optimize the health and wellness of the citizens of South Carolina.

And wouldn’t we all prefer to watch an uplifting movie on Netflix rather than seeing the next season of CSI Miami unfold before our very eyes?