State health officials are trying to cut the number of people with behavioral disorders who end up in the Emergency Room.
The Department of Health and Human Services says it's creating an advisory panel of health experts and patient advocates. The group's job will be to recommend improvements at the local level for mental health and substance abuse services.
Division of Mental Health director Dave Richard says there's apparent confusion about where to send those patients now that the state has moved away from community mental health centers.
"If you weren't going to a hospital, that's the place you would suggest people go to. As our system has evolved, those centers don't exist. We have comprehensive providers often in communities that can do the same work, but law enforcement may not be aware of it and, frankly, community members may not be aware of it, so it really is an education process that we have to do in the community," he says.
Richard says some communities can take the lead from providers in Wake County, which have a walk-in treatment policy.
"People can walk in and receive psychiatric services when they need them. They don't have to create appointments to walk in," Richard explained.
"Well, that will work in many communities. It may not work exactly like it works here, but we want to make sure that those are the kind of things that are available in other areas."
Richard says there are about 150,000 ER cases a year in North Carolina that are related to psychiatric or substance abuse disorders. About 13 percent of those people will end up in the hospital again within 30 days.