This article was written in response to Sunday’s New York Times piece on Discrimination in Healthcare.
As we learn more about what drives disease incidence like HIV infection, it’s clear we must move from a system that blames and stigmatizes individuals to one that addresses the complex reasons why people get and stay sick. Untreated mental illness is a factor in HIV incidence because it often results in poverty, homelessness, alcohol and drug use – all common factors in HIV incidence and poor health outcomes.
Untreated depression, bipolar disease, schizophrenia etc. ruin the lives not only of those who suffer with these illnesses but also their families, communities and the already overburdened system that’s supposed to address these complex issues. Without significant change, thousands will continue to suffer and the cost of psychiatric hospitalizations will continue to drive up Medicaid costs.
When we moved our headquarters to East Harlem 4 years ago, we noted that it’s a community that has a disproportionate number of HIV cases, psychiatric hospitalizations and poor health outcomes for chronic illnesses like asthma. We also knew that our clients with untreated mental illness were less likely to remain stably housed, follow-up with their healthcare or access the myriad of services available to them in the community. In some cases, untreated mental illness also prevented clients from being treated for viral hepatitis, a disease that affects approximately 30%, because depression is often a side effect of treatment.
Our response was simple – develop a behavioral health clinic in our Rand Harlan Center for Housing, Health and Community in East Harlem that is harm reduction based, LGBT inclusive, provides bi-lingual services, accepts Medicaid and other insurances and is open it to everyone who needs high quality, mental health services. In December 2012 we did just that and the results have been amazing – over 80 clients have been seen by our psychiatrist and therapists. More keep coming — a wonderful outcome indeed!
Gina Quattrochi, Esq
Chief Executive Officer