One year ago, the South Carolina Institute of Medicine & Public Health published a sweeping report about behavioral and mental health services in this state.

At the time, institute President Kester Freeman called the state's current system inadequate.

"It is time to recognize the need for crisis care for behavioral health patients in a similar way to the care available for people experiencing a heart attack, stroke, trauma or other physical health crisis," Freeman wrote in the report. "Everyone in our state should have access to the type of care they need, when they need it, regardless of the health issue."

Since then, the group's leaders say they've seen signs of improvement.

Inmates who enter the prison system with Medicaid benefits are now automatically re-enrolled upon release. Crisis stabilization units, which are staffed with professionals who have been trained to de-escalate dangerous patients during a behavioral or mental health acute episode, will be introduced in communities across the state. 

Such units often keep patients from winding up in an emergency room or jail.

"While we’re seeing a lot of great progress, there’s still so much work left to be done," said Maya Pack, associate director for research and strategic initiatives at the institute. "There's still gaps in our system and patients' needs are still not being met."

The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports nearly 20 percent of Americans have a mental illness. According to the Institute's report, 60 percent of them do not receive any treatment.

"Funding and utilization trends indicate the situation is even worse in South Carolina," the report's authors wrote. "Despite the efforts of many dedicated behavioral health professionals across South Carolina, treatment options and supportive services in this state are inadequate."

Pack said the institute's behavioral health task force continues to meet around these issues.

"That’s one of our major focuses," she said, "not letting our research be something that sits on the shelf."

Reach Lauren Sausser at 843-937-5598.