Expanded Medicaid to help more people access mental health medication

CHARLOTTE — Medicaid expansion in North Carolina is aimed to help more people get access to mental health medication, which is something the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association has fought for.

“If you talked to any one of the 100 sheriffs in the state, they will tell you that they have way too many people in their jail because of mental health issues,” said Eddie Caldwell, who was a vice president for the association.

The measure is meant to help people who need it in the community, including a man who was arrested after a 30-hour SWAT standoff in Steele Creek in March.

The suspect was believed to be suffering from a mental illness.

“We (were) on lockdown,” said a neighbor who didn’t want to be identified. “My lights were off, and you had these officers out there for almost two days.”

The suspect got out Tuesday.

“I’m very uncomfortable and you know, it makes me afraid to even want to go outside,” the neighbor told Channel 9.

The system has struggled for several years, said Dr. Stephen Strzelecki, the director of the Forensic Evaluations Unit in Mecklenburg County, which coordinates health services for the criminal justice system.

“The revolving door phenomenon is something we all want to avoid,” Strzelecki said.

Strzelecki believes that change is coming thanks to Medicaid expansion.

“It’s still hundreds of dollars for some of the medications that are prescribed,” Strzelecki said. “That’s just not an option for an individual who really has no steady income. So, at that point, they are just looking to find a place to sleep -- if they can get food.”

The medical assistance could result in a reduction in jail populations.

“Shoplifting, minor crimes, minor assaults -- that if folks were getting the treatment they needed, they probably wouldn’t commit the crime to start with,” Caldwell said.

State lawmakers gave their final approval of the legislation last week.

“Medicaid expansion is a once-in-a-generation investment that will strengthen our mental health system, boost our rural hospitals, support working families and so much more,” Gov. Roy Cooper said. “This is a historic step toward a healthier North Carolina that will bring people the opportunity of better health and a better life.”

VIDEO: Man in custody after 30-hour-long SWAT situation ends, CMPD says

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