Mineral Wells Area News

Roger’s Pens Column on Mental Health

Roger’s Pens Column on Mental Health
November 02
10:18 2022

The Looming Mental Health Crisis

Following World War Two, mental health advocates began a movement in Texas addressing the issue of failing state hospitals. At the time, there were only seven state hospitals, which were overcrowded, prison-like and inadequately staffed. Reformers pushed for the creation of community mental health institutes, where patients could receive better care and protection, contrary to what the former “insane asylum” system provided. In 1965, the Legislature passed a bill which created the Comprehensive Community Mental Health-Mental Retardation (MHMR) Centers. Mental retardation is now referred to as intellectual disability (ID) and when the MHMRacronym is still used, it stands for “My Health-My Resources”. 

Over the years, mental health services have expanded and improved vastly, yet the shortage of effective mental health services is a growing crisis. Across House District 60 and throughout Texas, this issue is creating consternation amongschool administrators and teachers, law enforcement agents, and mental healthcare providers. 

Since the pandemic, teaching professionalsoverwhelmingly attest that mental health issues amongst students have sharply increased. Reports of threatened suicide and depression have risen and, in parallel, necessary disciplinary actions have risen. One district reported over two hundredinstances of suicide-outcry by students in one year–a substantial percentage were elementary students. Local health authorities report an increased number of youth admitted into treatment and substance abuse counseling. 

While many districts have one counselor or crisis intervention specialist at each campus, there are still insufficientresources to address this crisis. This is especially true for smaller districts that cannot afford to fund social workers. Pecan Valley Centers for Behavioral and Developmental Healthcare provides service for Erath, Hood, Johnson, Palo Pinto, Parker and Somervell counties. They have agreements with school districts which allow mental health staff on campuses. Their collaboration has been effective. Case workers can detect mental disorders early, they can refer students to higher levels of care and students can avoid absences from school. 

Jails across the district have seen an increase in their populations of inmates with intellectual disabilities, psychiatric disorders, and drug and alcohol addictions. One sheriff reportedthat fifty percent of the jail’s inmates need mental health treatment. When a defendant is found incompetent to stand trial, they are required to be admitted to a state hospital for treatment. The issue, however, is that defendants are stuck on the waitlist for many months before they get admitted because the beds at all the state hospitals are occupied. As of June, the average wait time for a maximum-security bed was over five hundred days and for a minimum-security bed the wait time was over two hundred days across the state. The inadequate number of beds in state institutions is costly and dangerous for county jails. Inmates must voluntarily take medication and, unfortunately, many do not. This may create a dangerous environment for both law enforcement officials and other inmates. The cost for any inmates’ medical treatment, mental or physical, is the burden of the county and very often, this can be an exorbitant cost.

Jail facilities are unequipped and unable to properly address mental health crises. Their staff often face abuse and mistreatment when dealing with those with psychological disorders. Pecan Valley Executive Director Coke Beatty believes there are solutions to relieve the burden currently on law enforcement. He suggests creating a Crisis Drop-Off Facility, a location where individuals currently in mental health crises could go after being arrested, rather than to the county jail. Mental health staff would be trained and equipped to deal with those with mental disorders or severe intellectual disabilities. Beatty also recommends funding so Sheriff’s Departments can hire more Mental Health Deputies. They would be able to screen individuals immediately once they arrive on the scene and allow patrol units the time to deal with other crimes.

Pecan Valley Centers wants to do more for their communities, but they are currently extended beyond their limits. Their ideal staff-to-client ratio is one case worker to 150 clients. Now due to extreme staff shortages, some counties have a ratio of one case worker to four hundred clients. 

It is time for the Legislature to increase resources for local healthcare authorities. The situation is much different in a post-pandemic world and mental healthcare workers need assistance. Caseworkers need higher wages and mental healthcare centers need more staff to effectively manage caseloads. The 87th Legislature provided $400 million to renovate and expand the State Mental Health facilities. The 88th Legislature can take that further by providing additional funding for private psychiatric beds since the state hospitals are full, allowing centers like Pecan Valley to contract locally for inpatient beds. 

As Texans, we share a strong legacy of helping our neighbors. As a State Representative, it is part of my moral obligation to help those in need and invest in services that will ultimately resort in less cost to the State of Texas and its citizens. Local healthcare centers need increased funding to continue providing dynamic care to our communities. As we enter the 88th Legislative session, an investment in enhanced mental healthcare will be a high priority.

God Bless Texas!

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