Mental Health Services in Dire State

Public mental health services are in a dire state, the annual state comptroller's report warned yesterday. The report found extensive waiting lists for psychiatric hospitals and clinics and said psychiatric hospitals suffered from neglect.

Moreover, a reform meant to transfer responsibility for mental health to the health maintenance organizations has been on hold for a decade - but meanwhile, the Health Ministry has made minimal investments in the clinics under its responsibility. The ministry received NIS 100 million to boost service at these clinics, but only used NIS 27.7 million.

In May, Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman is slated to tell the High Court of Justice what he has decided to do about the reform, which his office is now studying.

The report quotes directors of government hospitals as saying that Israel never mapped communities' mental health needs, and in some locales, treatment is provided for only the most urgent and serious conditions, like schizophrenia.

As an example of the neglect of Israel's psychiatric hospitals, comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss described the moldy walls of Jerusalem's Kfar Shaul facility, which he termed unfit for patients to live in.

The report also slammed rehabilitation services for psychiatric patients who are released to the community. "Hundreds of patients who deserve this service cannot receive it because no appropriate framework was set up," the comptroller wrote.

The Health Ministry responded that the planned reform has been delayed by the HMOs. "But at this stage, there is no ministerial-level decision on how to proceed," the statement added.

The ministry denied that it used funds intended to beef up mental health services to cover deficits at government psychiatric hospitals. "The problem is not that the budget for mental health has fallen, but that the increase has not kept up with demand," it added.

One HMO, Leumit, said the reform has been discussed for 15 years now, but meanwhile, the ministry is still responsible for mental health care. "Nevertheless, Leumit recruited scores of psychiatric specialists for community clinics beginning in 2009, and today does not have any waiting list problems," its statement said.