CNCounty News

Mental Health Summit explores innovative solutions

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Key Takeaways

Counties must leverage intergovernmental partnerships, expand their crisis response and invest in a behavioral health workforce to combat the country’s mental health crisis, according to leaders and experts at the local and state level.

“Policy change is crucial to moving the needle forward, but it also works hand-in-hand with the innovative programs and practices each of our counties is championing on the ground,” said Kathryn Barger, Los Angeles County supervisor and co-chair of the NACo Commission on Mental Health and Wellbeing. 

Enhanced Wellbeing: Summit on Mental Health

July 23, 2023

NACo Annual Conference - Travis County, Texas

Some of the innovative programs outlined include Travis County, Texas’ integration of clinicians into its 911 call center and Miami-Dade County, Fla.’s pre- and post-arrest diversion systems.

“What we’ve experienced the last few years is just a lot of workforce shortages, so I think that lifting up the services that we’re doing to ensure that we can continue to provide the services and sustain them is beneficial,” said Marisa Malik, director of Texas Integral Care in Travis County. “… Qualitative and quantitative data have been really beneficial to keep, not only sustaining, but expanding the services that we have here in Travis County, and I would say that that has been really critical. 

“Outside of data, ensuring that you have good relationships with your city and county governments, police first responder partners, your mental health authorities, your hospital district systems [is key].”

Miami-Dade County’s pre-arrest diversion system trains law enforcement officers in identifying when someone is having a mental health crisis and in de-escalating the situation so it doesn’t end in an arrest. The post-arrest diversion system provides juvenile first-time minor offenders with a specialized treatment plan, personalized to their background, as opposed to their criminal offense, in an effort to get to the root of the criminal behavior and prevent re-offense. 

“We blame the people who fail in a system that isn’t working for them, and we end up punishing them in a criminal justice system that often makes matters worse,” said Miami-Dade County Judge Steve Leifman. “… In many ways, the criminal justice system is the repository of many failed government policies, and there is no greater failed public policy than our treatment towards people with mental illnesses. 

“The fact that we have applied a criminal justice model to an illness explains why we have failed so miserably, but the good news is, this is very fixable.”

The diversion systems have saved Miami-Dade County $120 million since they were implemented and the number of yearly arrests has reduced from 118,000 to 53,000. 

Miami-Dade County, Fla. is also set to open a mental health diversion facility, which will hold a receiving facility, crisis stabilization, vocational and educational programs, a courtroom to manage criminal and civil cases and 208 beds of housing, for the county’s most vulnerable population.

“The idea is for this most acutely ill [population] that continues to cycle [in and out] again and again, to offer them what they actually need instead of just kicking them to the curb,” Leifman said. “Once we’ve adjudicated their case in our criminal system, we can gently reintegrate people with the supports that they need to maintain their recovery.”

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