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NWA editorial: Here to help

Northwest Health grows vital mental health services

When it comes to intense episodes of mental illness, progress toward recovery is typically a long-term proposition.

Arkansas has had a lengthy struggle with the treatment of those suffering with mental illness and has never quite gotten it right. In that, the state has plenty of company across the nation. Recent years, however, have seen progress for those who suffer, as new medications and facilities replaced the awful circumstances the mentally ill faced in the past.

What’s the point?

Northwest Health and state officials have made recent announcements that give hope for those whose mental illness require medical treatment.

Progress in that arena also comes slowly, but Northwest Arkansas has reason to be hopeful as recent developments promise new paths of medical assistance for the mentally ill.

The most recent great news came from Northwest Health, which announced a $3.7 million expansion of its inpatient mental health unit at Northwest Medical Center-Springdale. The project will add 14 beds for adults in need of acute care and four medical-psychiatric beds to the hospital's 29-bed mental health unit.

The need is real, and it's experienced often in local emergency rooms and law enforcement personnel.

"Many patients arrive in our emergency department in crisis. If there are no psychiatric beds available they must wait in the emergency department to be transferred for psychiatric services, leading to a delay in specialized care for them," Dr. Danelle Richards, emergency department medical director at Northwest Health, said in a news release. "This expansion will help provide access to needed behavioral health services and allow general emergency services to be focused where they are needed in the ER."

The expansion is expected to open in early 2018.

Pair that with the governor's recent announcement of funding for four crisis stabilization centers across Arkansas, one of which Northwest Health earlier committed to host. These state-funded facilities will be designed for people going through acute mental health episodes who, in the past, would likely have ended up in a jail cell. That, of course, is a terrible place to put someone experiencing such episodes. They need medical attention, not incarceration.

The crisis stabilization centers -- one each in Craighead, Pulaski, Sebastian and Washington counties -- will provide 24-hour-a-day access to immediate treatment so that people taken there can be restored to functionality through medicine or other approaches. The existence of longer-term services, such as Northwest's expansion, creates real options to get patients' lives back on track.

It's certainly sad that these services are needed, but the complexities of the human mind are still a wonder. The National Alliance on Mental Illness says one in five adults experiences a mental health condition every year, while one in 17 lives with a lifelong condition such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

It is a relief to know Northwest Arkansas is growing in this health care sector as its population continues to grow. We appreciate Northwest's role in serving the community through its mental health care services and appreciate the state Legislature and governor for their support for such critical services in this corner of Arkansas and statewide.

Commentary on 09/12/2017

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