Advocates discuss concerns, offer patients advice following psychiatric clinic closure

Huntsville
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MADISON, Ala. (WHNT)– Patients like Lisa Blackmon have worked hard to find the right care for them, and their families.

After Alabama Psychiatric Services announced all of its statewide facilities are set to close February 13th, she’s concerned and looking for answers.

“I really was shocked. I could not believe it,” she said about when she found out the news.

Concerns about providing adequate notice

While there’s a statement posted on their website, and written papers available at some of their facilities, she said she called the location where she and another family member receive care just yesterday. Blackmon says they didn’t tell her anything about this or give any indication there was an impending closure.

It’s possible the employees didn’t even know then, based on what employees have told WHNT News 19.

“I still as of this moment have not had any [formal] notice from APS,” she said during an interview Wednesday afternoon.

Worse, the facility still hasn’t provided her family with options for continuing care and only provided less than a week’s notice via their website that they’re closing.

Advocate Pippa Abston is most concerned about that part of the equation.

“I’ve never heard of anything like this,” she said.

Abston says it’s common for facilities changing hands, losing physicians, or closing down entirely to offer 30 days notice. Longer, depending on the circumstances.

She says APS’s situation puts physicians out of work, and many patients out of touch with help they may rely on.

“If you have a chronic illness and your treatment is interrupted, you may get worse,” she cautioned. “Somebody may need to get medical advice. And a primary care physician [isn’t always prepared] to handle some of those disorders.”

The fear is this means even less care options for a community already facing a shortage of psychiatrists.

“We are… competing for slots for psychiatrists and therapists because there are so many people without care,” said Blackmon when we asked her how she’s handling looking for a new psychiatrist.

What you can do if you’re affected

Abston, a pediatrician herself, says there are several things she would recommend to patients or families affected by the closure.

“Call and get your [medical] records quickly,” she said, “before they close.”

She also recommends calling your insurance provider to see who else is in your network and can take over your care. In the future, she hopes insurance providers will add more physicians to their coverage.

Calling your primary care doctor could also help. They may be able to help you find other options.

Abston said she called the Board of Medical Examiners for more assistance about what to tell patients. After that conversation, she recommends filing a complaint at www.albme.org if you have trouble finding other options. As an advocate, Abston is calling for major changes in Alabama’s mental health care system.

“This is the tip of the iceberg,” Abston said. “We have had an ongoing mental health crisis in this state for years.”

The North Alabama Coalition on Mental Illness is meeting on February 15th at 3 PM at the Grateful Life Community Church to discuss options and talk about how to reach out to legislators. They welcome the public to join the meeting.

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