Mental health, next steps

Thank you to all the mental health levy supporters who made it to the polls Nov. 7. By doing so you helped to give thousands of people in Washington County a renewed hope for a better future!

The Washington County Behavioral Health Board (WCBHB) is honored by the generosity and faith entrusted to us. We will therefore update citizens on a regular basis how your funds are being used to support prevention, treatment, and recovery of children, adolescents, and adults at risk for mental illness or substance use disorders.

The WCBHB has established a Program Planning and Oversight Committee, co-chaired by Mike Beardmore and Jim Raney. These men also co-chaired the mental health levy campaign. The committee’s mission is to advise the full board on a monthly basis what programs and services are available and necessary for us to implement, in a cost effective manner, in Washington County. This new committee has already met several times to begin moving forward. We have reached out to Cheri Walter, CEO of Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities, and department heads of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, to provide input about what “best practice” programs are in place elsewhere in the state that we can easily emulate. Best practices are interventions and services that have been evaluated and have demonstrated good outcomes for individuals. In general, best practices are approaches that:

1) are judged to be exemplary

2) have been developed or based on systematic processes

3) are designed to produce successful outcomes and

4) have undergone rigorous evaluation and research.

We will not only be considering programs with proven outcomes, but they also must be sustainable. For example, recently there has been a lot of talk about having a drug court for Washington County. One was in place a few years back, and showed success, but had to be closed down due to the grant dollars going away. Yes, those who went through the drug court did benefit, but the court was not sustainable. Levy funds could potentially be used as seed money, and possibly each year in the future to maintain sustainability, but only if other stakeholders can arrange other long-term funding to be in place moving forward.

The committee will also seek input from local providers of services about what they feel is lacking for treatment of mental health and substance abuse disorders. Providers are on the front lines and are best equipped to provide timely information on what type of services people are seeking, and how those providers can help fill the gaps. Of high priority is immediate and sustainable access to effective and affordable treatment for individuals with mental and substance abuse issues. We not only want to expand local services, but also decrease the time it takes for someone to receive the services and assure continuing availability in the future.

Another of our immediate priorities will be getting drug and alcohol abuse prevention programs into every school in Washington County. Children and adolescents need to know the dangers of drug abuse well before they reach the age where they may come into contact with illicit use. Older students need to be empowered with the skills and confidence to stay away from temptation from other students and young adults. We are currently working with the county health department on this endeavor, and some programs will soon be in place in some school systems.

Of course priorities will change. But having levy funds available will allow the WCBHB to react more quickly to emerging situations in the county. Thank you again to the volunteers and voters who supported the levy.

David Browne is executive director of the Washington County Behavioral Health Board. Behavioral Health Matters appears the first Saturday of the month on the Opinion page.