PART ONE: Mental health patients having trouble without TennCare

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) – Thousands of Tennesseans suffer from mental illness, and some of them have managed to fall between the cracks in recent years after being removed from TennCare.

VolunteerTV News recently caught up with one such East Tennessee for the first part of our series “The Forgotten.”

Matthew Trippe drives mental health patients back and forth to the Friendship House, where they can socialize with others. Trippe can sympathize with his passengers, because he had a mental breakdown a few years ago.

"I was doing irrational things,” he said. “I would go check my mailbox 9 times a day, even after the mail was delivered. I mean no rhyme or reason. I'd talk to whomever who wasn't there."

Trippe has lost his TennCare coverage within the last few years, and now fears he won’t be able to live much longer without it.

“Five years I've been without TennCare and it's been a living hell,” he said. “Financially speaking, it's been a living hell and mentally stressfully.”

Trippe suffers from depression, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and sleep apnea. He admitted he can't afford all the doctor visits or prescriptions he needs.

"I feel like I'm a walking time bomb,” he said. “I don't know how much longer I'm going to be around if I'm not on those medications."

TennCare dropped thousands of mental health patients in 2005 and then more were kicked off as part of the “Daniels Class.”

"It's a pretty serious situation because if you're mentally ill and you've lost your TennCare coverage you've not only lost doctor access, you've also lost that support person,” said Michael Waltke, director of adult mental health and recovery services at the Helen Ross McNabb Center.

Waltke told Volunteer TV News it is a misnomer that when you cut money from TennCare you're saving money in the long run.

"Those are at a lot higher risk of incarceration,” he said. “We see a lot of homelessness people turning to substance abuse because they're trying to self medicate and higher incidents of suicide."

Trippe says he won't turn to violence, but he doesn't know what he's going to do when his medication runs out. Right now it's just a waiting game.

If you've lost your TennCare there is help out there. The Behavioral Health Safety Net provides core behavioral health services for Tennesseans with serious mental illness who are uninsured and at or below the federal poverty line, but are not eligible for TennCare.

Just contact your local physician or call TennCare at 1-800-878-3192.

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  • by Bob Location: lenoir on Mar 2, 2010 at 10:32 PM
    as a person with mental disabilities, on the verge of suscide i got help from chs,cherokee health systems,but my tenncare was taken away and being on very small fixed income its hard to pay 20% of medicare that is not covered. what a shame state of tennessee that u can support illegal immigrents with anything and not help us who worked and paid taxes all of our lives!!! so when somene goes on a shooting rampage its out state that should take the blame! not to mention the sucides! i go to get groceries and the people with foodstamps are buying junk food and im struggling to get the basics (bwt) i dont qualify for foodstamps wven tho i live below the poverty level! but u can go to save-a-lot grocerys and but easter baskets with food stamps yes! check for urself!!!! when i do have to go to d.h.s. to apply for foodstamps just to get some other assistance with medical help i usually get binifent taken away and still no foodstamps shame !shame !shame! on u gov.and our politicans SHAME!!!!!!!!
  • by Marta Location: Scott on Mar 2, 2010 at 05:24 PM
    With all respect to Dr. Robert, who may be right, Mr. Trippe has no insurance. If he did, he might be able to get the kind of sleep apnea CPAP machine Dr. Robert recommends. Without insurance, Mr. Trippe can't possibly get that machine, even if he has been properly diagnosed.
  • by Dr. Robert Location: Atlanta, GA on Mar 2, 2010 at 11:46 AM
    There is a high probability that sleep apnea is the underlying cause of all of Mr. Trippe's health problems (depression, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes). The medical profession has been extremely slow to recognize this. Check into Mr. Trippe further and I am sure you will find two things that are typical of sleep apnea sufferers. First, he went for years undiagnosed and untreated for sleep apnea and a lot of damage was done to his body and mind. Second, he does not have a fully data-capable CPAP machine which monitors his therapy and ensures he is getting good treatment. At my large family practice we have started screening all patients for sleep-disordered breathing and referring them to sleep labs when appropriate. 54% of the patients have tested positive when screened and all of them have been found to have sleep-disordered breathing by sleep labs. 2609 patients have been diagnosed in just under three years. This is the biggest health problem in our society.
  • by Nancy Location: Powell on Mar 2, 2010 at 05:20 AM
    The Safety Net program does work and I would encourage all who need mental health care to try and get into this program. It will not help with physical illness but some care is better than no care at all. I do know that CHS helps sign people up for that program and most mental heath care providers should know about it and help their clients get into that program. I have someone I love with mental illness and the people that are in that position are just as important as anyone else and deserve to have care so that they can have an active everyday life and not be doomed to a life on the street ,in shelters or under a bridge. This does not speak well of us as human beings or as a nation in general. People do matter.
  • by Mary Frances Location: Knoxville on Mar 1, 2010 at 11:27 PM
    This is a terrible situation. I would love to know more about this story. Why were these people dropped from TennCare; does the state not see their illnesses as important? We as a people need to band together and help these people. Just because someone has a mental illness, no matter how debilitating it may be, does not mean that they do not have feelings. These people need their medications. I completely agree with what the speaker said, these people may very well turn to drugs and suicide without their medications. This is so sad and exactly what drives me to continue with my major of Psychology. I wish there was something I could do to help.


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