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Community takes steps to address mental health crisis

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Last week saw a gathering of about 40 people representing entities that are working on the front lines of behavioral and mental health issues in Delta County. Law enforcement, health and human services, advocacy groups, mental health, the hospital, the school district and others all had a seat at the table to start discussion on how to integrate services to deal with complex, cross-system needs of those in our community dealing with mental and behavioral health issues.

"We're all here today to kick start something that hopefully will make a real difference in our region," said Jason Cleckler, CEO of Delta County Memorial Hospital. "We want to really approach this as a major team effort for our community."

He said the effort came about several months ago in discussions between the hospital, Families Plus, Center for Mental Health, the health department and the school district, when those entities began talking about how Delta County deals with mental and behavioral health issues in the community, and how behavioral health care access could be increased. "We all agreed that this is a crisis," Cleckler said. "It's a crisis in our community, it's a crisis in our region and it's a crisis throughout the state."

He said that in 2016, mental health visits to the emergency room outnumbered trauma cases. "This is an issue that has been building for several years. This is a really big issue that affects many people, and this is something that we have to address."

"The opportunities have never been better for us to be able to achieve widely available behavioral health care in Delta County," said Brenda Holland with Families Plus. In 2018, she said, Medicaid money is going to blend together for physical and mental health care, and communities are going to be expected to integrate behavioral health care into other health care services. Holland said this is an opportunity for Delta County to get ahead of the curve. "We need better and more access to mental health care. We need a community plan we can work on all together to make this happen."

Families Plus brought in a facilitator to guide the discussion and brainstorming. "This is the start of a planning process to really pick your brains and get a few general thoughts out of this group," said John VanDenBerg. He encouraged the group to make integration a community-owned effort. He stressed integration over collaboration at the consumer level: working towards intra-agency solution instead of several agencies working on their own plan to address the needs.

The group was broken up into smaller groups, so each agency could discuss how they approach mental and behavioral health, and brainstorm ideas on what and how the community needs to mental health services. VanDenBerg tasked each group to discuss which health care/social services already in place should be integrated with behavioral health services, and which services should be prioritized. The groups also discussed processes that should be created, as well as evaluation methods.

VanDenBerg stressed that this meeting was just the beginning of a process. After compiling notes from each group, individuals from each agency are going to be interviewed in-depth about the state of mental health care in Delta County. The data from last week's meeting and from the interviews will be compiled into qualitative trend analysis, which VanDenBerg and others will draft into a set of options to move forward. Those options will be presented at a followup meeting where decisions will need to be made on next steps. "We need to have a clear process and strategic decision making," he said, as well as data-driven evaluation practices. "This is a pretty robust process. There will have to be lots of conversations, but we're at a pretty neat place in Delta County to be able to move forward."

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