Community Mental Health Panel
Community Mental Health Panel at the Appalachian Ohio Mental Health & Housing Conference on October 7, 2019 that Executive Director, David Browne attended.
Ohio – Of the many difficult stories about mental health issues that
emerged at Monday’s Appalachian Ohio Mental Health & Housing
Conference, Robin Harris’ description of a traumatized Purple Heart
winner hit the hardest.
Harris, executive director of Gallia, Jackson & Meigs Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Board, described a young Iraq war Marine veteran who was hit with enemy gunfire during his service in Fallujah, Irag, The ambush severely injured him and killed his best friend. He returned home to Meigs County with a Purple Heart, a military award given to those injured in battle, and wartime trauma buried deep in his soul.
Harris said the young man couldn’t get the long-treatment he needed for trauma, was in and out of rehabilitation for addiction to painkillers, and eventually turned to crime and ended up in prison.
“His mother told me, “I watched my son go off the prison with his Purple Heart sitting on my mantle,’” Harris said.
The failure of the system to treat the young man “is a picture of where we are today with our mental health system and veterans. It breaks my heart,” Harris said.
There were other troubling stories: a young person with mental illness who waited in emergency room care for a week before getting treatment; people driving hours to get mental health care because of closed rural hospitals; a critical lack of housing for people in recovery, and waves of suicides rippling across Appalachian Ohio.
But there were positive signs, too, including $37 million from Gov. Mike DeWine’s administration for mental health crisis services, expanded specialty court dockets, greater cooperation between state and local agencies, a proposed new mental health crisis center in southern Ohio, more housing opportunities, and the first statewide suicide prevention plan.
The conference sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness Ohio, Ohio University and the Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation attracted 200 people, many of them mental health professionals, for discussions on mental health treatment, housing, transportation and related issues.
A keynote speaker was Douglas O’Brien, regional Midwest director for the U.S Department of Health & Human Services. He said the federal government is not typically good at long-range planning, instead focusing on budget-to-budget funding. In the meantime, he said, “Rural America is facing a crossroads, most importantly in health care.”
O’Brien said federal officials are working to make a better connection between physical health and mental health care.
Former Gov. Ted Strickland, moderator of two panel discussions at the event, and a former prison psychologist, said locking up people with mental illness is not a viable solution because mental health treatment is scarce behind bars. “Prisons are an unforgiving environment for anyone, but especially for anyone with mental illness.
“Not every dysfunctional, angry person has a mental illness and that’s something that needs to be stressed continually,” Strickland said.
Robin Harris was one of six county mental health board directors on a panel discussion of the progress and problems of mental health treatment at the local level.
While all agreed more money is necessary, David Browne of the Washington County Behavioral Health Board asked for financial incentives to lure more mental health service providers to underserved rural southern Ohio. Otherwise, waits of multiple weeks for what should be emergency services will continue, he said.
“When a person makes a call for help they need to get it today,” Browne said. “We need to get help today. We don’t need it in five years.”
All the directors bemoaned the fact that people seeking crisis mental health treatment in hospitals may wait 48 to 72 hours before a bed can be found. For children, it can be even longer. Brown said one child had to stay in the hospital emergency for a week before being placed.
Sue Shultz of the Adams, Lawrence and Scioto Counties Board said services are scarce in rural areas due to a lack of hospitals. “People drive an hour to an hour and a half from Adams County to get services,” she said. Often transportation is a problem.
An afternoon panel focused on community health and housing. Dr. Tiffany Inglis, director of Medical Operations for Anthem, said the health care organization has recognized that housing is critical to building bridges to community mental health. “Mental health is not a short-term fix,” she said.
Anthem provided $200,000 to help fund the Adam-Amanda Mental Health Rehabilitation Center, a 16-bed crisis stabilization and hospital step-down treatment facility in Athens. NAMI Ohio spearheaded the effort to establish the facility, the first of its kind in the state.
The state has provided $118 million for overall housing programs through the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
Housing specialist Sally Luken, who works with NAMI Ohio, said many irons in the fire for housing for people in mental health treatment, including renovated and new-build apartments, large and small housing projects, financial incentives to landlords, and help with access to utilities.
Tony Coder, director of the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation, stressed the need for suicide education and prevention programs. He said Ohio is developing a suicide prevention plan, but is the last state to do so. Appalachian Ohio is hard hit by suicide, with nine of the top 10 counties with the highest suicide rates per 100,000 population. Meigs County topped the list at 21.5 per 100,000, followed by Jackson at 19.9 and Hocking County at 19.7.
“If you’re having thoughts of suicide, reach out to somebody,” Coder said. “Suicide cannot be discussed in private and it cannot be ignored.”