South Carolina Department of Mental Health

Director's Column - May 12, 2017

John H. Magill, State Director

Recent Developments and Achievements

The South Carolina Department of Mental Health (DMH) strives to improve and expand its services to the citizens of our state. With your support, we continue to make progress. This document is an update of select examples of Agency milestones, achievements, and services for the year 2017.

  • Shortening the length of time that criminal defendants wait for admission to the Department’s secure forensic hospital is the Agency’s current number one priority. By law, criminal defendants found incompetent to stand trial due to a mental illness must go through a commitment process to a DMH hospital. Because of a significant increase in commitment orders, the length of time that defendants must wait for admission substantially increased. As a result, in June, 2016, the Department made reducing the wait time for forensic admissions its first priority and developed a multi-faceted Action Plan. That Plan, which is ongoing, is showing promising results.
    • The number of defendants awaiting forensic admission has decreased 54% since April, 2016.
    • From January to April of 2017, 100 forensic patients were admitted, an increase of 20% compared to the same time period in 2016.
    • From January to April of 2017, DMH discharged 48% more forensic patients to secure or supervised community settings than during the same time period in 2016.
    • Furthermore, the average length of stay from January to April of 2017 has decreased by 40% compared to the same time period in 2016.

  • Thanks to the support of the Governor and the General Assembly, DMH has increased access to community mental health services. DMH has increased productivity and access standards in its community mental health services: from FY14 to FY15, new cases (new/readmissions) increased 3.17%. From FY15 to FY16, new cases (new/readmissions) increased 3.29%. In a majority of mental health centers, patients in crisis can see a Mental Health Professional on the day they walk in, and wait times for appointments with counselors and psychiatrists have been reduced. In FY16, DMH community mental health centers provided more than 1.3 million clinical services.

  • DMH’s telepsychiatry programs have provided more than 60,000 psychiatric services.
    • As of April 2017, DMH’s innovative and award winning Emergency Department Telepsychiatry Consultation Program has provided more than 33,000 psychiatric consultations in emergency departments across South Carolina. The Program was developed to meet the critical shortage of psychiatrists in South Carolina’s underserved areas, and assist hospital emergency rooms by providing appropriate treatment to persons in a behavioral crisis, using real-time, state-of-the-art video-and-voice technology that connects DMH psychiatrists to hospital emergency departments throughout the state.
    • Built on the success of telepsychiatry services to emergency departments, DMH has equipped its hospitals, mental health centers, and clinics to provide psychiatric treatment services to its patients via telepsychiatry. Since August 2013, the Community Telepsychiatry Program has provided more than 28,000 psychiatric treatment services to DMH patients throughout South Carolina.

  • In September 2015, DMH received a major youth suicide prevention grant of $736,000 per year for five years from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The award supports the SC Youth Suicide Prevention Initiative (SCYSPI), an intensive, community-based effort with the goal of reducing suicide among youths and young adults, aged 10 to 24, by 20% statewide by 2025.
    • Using various multi-media platforms, SCYSPI has made great strides in meeting its outreach and awareness goal of 300,000 individuals by year five, having reached more than 100,000 individuals across the state in 2016-2017 alone.
    • SCYSPI offers trainings in suicide prevention to multi-disciplinary audiences and community members.  To date, the Initiative has trained more than 4,167 individuals in suicide prevention, including more than 80 law enforcement personnel, more than 100 foster parents, and more than 515 youths.
    • Bamberg Job Corps, the only Job Corps in South Carolina, has adopted the SCYSPI Model Policy and Protocol at its Lowcountry center to enhance its capacity to effectively serve its participants. Moreover, the organization has begun the training portion of its prevention action plan by having the entire staff trained in “ASK about Suicide to Save a Life”. 
    • In collaboration with The Regional Medical Center: Orangeburg (tRMC) emergency department, Behavioral Health and Home Health, SCYSPI has developed a Model Protocol for Emergency Departments. The protocol is aimed at ensuring individuals who have survived a suicide attempt are effectively linked to needed community services. SCYSPI looks forward to piloting this protocol in both the Emergency Department at tRMC as well as its ambulatory care centers.
    • SCYSPI has begun implementation of the ZEROsuicide model in Behavioral Health Care settings throughout South Carolina. The foundational belief of ZEROSuicide is that suicide deaths for individuals under care within health and behavioral health systems are preventable. SCYSPI will begin piloting the ZEROsuicide approach this year in three DMH mental health centers: Anderson-Oconee-Pickens, Lexington, and Santee-Wateree, with the goal of eventual Agency-wide implementation.    
      • With funds appropriated by the SC General Assembly in FYs 15, FY16, and FY17, DMH has continued to expand school-based programs. DMH School-based Services are now available in 540 schools across South Carolina.

  • Parcel sales of the Bull Street property have continued; additional parcel sales took place in August, September, and December, 2016. The Buyer has continued to exceed – remain ahead of – the minimum payment schedule required in the Agreement.
    • An accurate accounting of the funds received to date by the Department is maintained and the proceeds are deposited in a segregated account. The Commission has authorized the agency to use the initial sale proceeds to increase additional affordable housing for patients in the community. A funding solicitation will be issued later this year for affordable housing developers to partner with DMH to expand housing options for clients across the state.

  • Following the September 28, 2016 School shooting in Townville, SC, the Anderson-Oconee-Pickens Community Mental Health Center (AOP), with additional personnel from other DMH Upstate community mental health centers, provided crisis counseling and support to the victims, families and school personnel. Following the initial response, AOP continues to provide support for the affected community and the school children and personnel in dealing with the longer term impact of this tragic event.

  • DMH is actively engaged in year two of its Cooperative Agreement to Benefit Homeless Individuals for SC (CABHI-SC). The $1.8 Million per year, three-year SAMHSA grant, awarded in late 2015, serves individuals who are chronically homeless and have a serious mental illness and has expanded partnerships with a number of organizations, including: Palmetto Health, the University of South Carolina, the United Way of the Midlands, and the South Carolina Interagency Council on Homelessness.
    • Palmetto Health is operating an Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team in Columbia, which provides mental health services to homeless individuals wherever they are, and encourages them to accept available services.
    • CABHI-SC is funding five grant-supported positions at Greenville Mental Health Center to expand its existing ACT-Like team to a full fidelity ACT team that will serve an additional 34 chronically homeless patients by the end of the Grant.
    • As of April 2017, the two CABHI-SC treatment sites at Palmetto Health and Greenville Mental Health Center are serving a combined total of 40 clients and are committed to serving a total of 109 people by the end of the Grant.
    • In addition to funding ACT teams, CABHI-SC also funds four SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery (SOAR) benefits specialists throughout South Carolina. As of March 2017, these specialists have submitted a combined total of 39 applications to connect people with disabilities to SSI/SSDI income supports in order to support their recovery.
    • The South Carolina Interagency Council on Homelessness has expanded and includes representation from eight state agencies: DMH, DAODAS, Department of Corrections, Department of Education, HHS, SC Housing, DSS, and DHEC. The Council meets every other month and focuses on achieving better statewide coordination among stakeholders to address homelessness and behavioral health issues.
  • DMH has received a $1 Million appropriation to develop crisis stabilization centers in communities.
    • The Charleston community, through a funding partnership comprising local hospitals, the Charleston-Dorchester Community Mental Health Center, law enforcement and others, will open a 10-12 bed center this year.
    • Discussions are ongoing in Spartanburg, Anderson, and Greenville with local community stakeholders, including hospitals, law enforcement, county councils and local alcohol and drug agencies to look at the future development of crisis stabilization centers.
  • DMH has also entered into agreements with community hospitals to embed mental health professionals to assist EDs in meeting the needs of psychiatric patients. DMH currently has this type of partnership in multiple community hospitals, resulting in more than 5,700 dispositions from EDs in FY16.
  • The Joint Bond Review Committee and the State Fiscal Accountability Authority gave Phase II approval for a new Santee-Wateree Mental Health Center in June, 2016. The bidding process is complete and the construction contract was awarded in April. Notice to proceed was issued on April 28, the preconstruction conference was held May 4, and the contract completion date is May 2018. The new building will allow the Center to provide comprehensive mental health services under one roof in a state-of-the-art facility.

DMH is dedicated to supporting and retaining excellent staff.

    • Six of DMH’s Nurses were recognized April 22 as Palmetto Gold Nurses. Lakeshia Cannon, RN; Tammy Cleveland, RN, MBA; Michele Dreher, MSN; Sherry S Hall, RN; Mary S Raaf, Nurse Practitioner; and Jonathan Worth, RN, were honored as Registered Nurses who exemplify excellence in nursing practice and commitment to the nursing profession in South Carolina.
    • On April 12, Heather Smith received the Victims' Rights Week 2017 Distinguished Humanitarian Award from the SC Victim Assistance Network. Smith, who is a Chief Mental Health Counselor at DMH’s Metropolitan Children’s Advocacy Center (formerly known as the Assessment and Resource Center), was nominated by the 11th Circuit Solicitors Office for her “lifelong devotion to treating, supporting, and uplifting survivors of child abuse.”
    • DMH has partnered with multiple organizations to coordinate and sponsor training for professionals not only in its own organization, but also associated groups, to share information and best practice updates:
      • In late March, more than 400 professionals participated in the second statewide Cultural and Linguistic Competency Summit, designed to increase professionals’ and individuals’ capacity to effectively address cultural differences among diverse children and families in South Carolina.
      • On April 27 and 28, nearly 500 professionals attended the 2017 Southeastern School Behavioral Health Conference, the goal of which was Moving Toward Exemplary and High Impact School Behavioral Health.
    • Like many healthcare providers, DMH is faced with enormous challenges in recruiting and retaining all of the healthcare professionals it needs, including competing with other public and private healthcare providers for a limited supply of psychiatrists, nurses, and counselors. The Department is pursuing a number of new measures to reach prospective employees, including dedicating recruiting staff to attend job fairs, expanding the Department’s presence on social media, and placing job announcements in professional publications. The Agency’s Human Resources office is also streamlining the hiring process with the goal of significantly shortening the time between receiving job applications and being able to offer positions.

The South Carolina Department of Mental Health’s mission is to support the recovery of people with mental illnesses, giving priority to adults with serious and persistent mental illness and to children and adolescents with serious emotional disturbances.

  • Each of DMH’s 17 community mental health centers is accredited by CARF International, an independent, nonprofit accreditor of human service providers. In addition, Morris Village Treatment Center, the Agency’s inpatient drug and alcohol hospital, is also accredited by CARF International.
  • DMH’s psychiatric hospitals are accredited by The Joint Commission, which aims to improve healthcare by evaluating healthcare providers and inspiring them to excel in the provision of safe, effective care of the highest quality and value.
  • Each of DMH’s four nursing homes is licensed by DHEC and certified by CMS.  Three of the four nursing homes (516 beds) serve veterans exclusively and are certified by the Department of Veterans Affairs.  The Tucker Nursing Care Facilities (Roddey-General Nursing Home and Stone-Veterans Nursing Home) are nationally accredited by The Joint Commission (TJC) and represent two of only 10 Nursing homes in South Carolina with this distinction.  *There are 195 nursing homes in the State of South Carolina.
  • DMH has more than 800 portals by which citizens can access mental health services, including:
    • a network of 17 outpatient community mental health centers, 43 clinics, multiple psychiatric hospitals, one community nursing care center, and three veterans’ nursing homes;
    • more than 30 specialized clinical service sites (DMH offices that provide some type of clinical care, but do not offer a full array of services found in a center or clinic);
    • more than 20 South Carolina hospitals with Telepsychiatry services;
    • more than 140 community sites (non-DMH entities or businesses where DMH staff regularly and routinely provide clinical services), and
    • 540 school-based service program sites.

We will continue to highlight select examples of DMH’s system, programs, and achievements in future periodic updates.

For more information, please contact Tracy LaPointe at (803) 898-8582 or