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News: Mental Health Care for All

Tax levy helps with prevention and intervention

By Margo Pierce · October 24th, 2007 · News
It's 3 in the morning the day after you lost your job, and you're feeling desperate. Everyone you know is asleep -- they all have jobs with insurance and savings accounts and their own responsibilities, so it's not like they'd be able to "get" what you're dealing with anyway.

A few blocks away a mentally disabled person is pacing back and forth in front of his building, getting more and more upset because he can't remember the access code to get in. His mumbling about the missing slip of paper the number was written on is now on the verge of a shout.

In a few hours the cops are going to get a call from a hysterical grandmother who has locked herself in the bathroom because her granddaughter is trashing her apartment looking for money. The bi-polar teen claims she stopped taking her medication because she doesn't have money to get her prescription refilled.

These are the kinds of situations the Mental Health and Recovery Board was designed to address. Almost 16,000 crisis calls represent a fraction of the services the board provided in 2006, and that's why it's seeking a renewal of the existing tax levy "with a slight increase," according to Pat Tribee, president of the board.

"It's for individuals who obviously don't have the resources to get mental health treatment, in many cases would go untreated without resources from the levy," he says. "One of the things we've had in place in Hamilton County for many years is something called Mental Health Access Point, MHAP. It's kind of a central front door -- it's 558-8888. People can call themselves or if they feel like there's a family issue or a problem with their kids."

More than therapy
Referrals come from a variety of sources -- family members, friends, teachers, counselors or clergy. A diagnostic assessment is performed, and the appropriate treatment is identified.

The board contracts with agencies to provide the services. The Mental Health and Recovery Board acts like an insurance agency.

Individual programs provide treatment, and the board pays for it from the appropriate funding source. The 52 providers listed in the 2006 annual report are a mix of mental health, drug and alcohol programs.

"We did go through a merger about 10 months ago and brought together the mental health side and the alcohol/drug side," Tribee says. "The levy that is scheduled in November only funds mental heath services -- it is not for alcohol and drug services.

"As people come in through our services, we have a concept we call 'no wrong door.' We're not going to send somebody back out the door if it's an alcohol problem versus a mental health problem. We use the assessment process ... to then make a decision (about) what's the best agency for that person to go to.

"We will spend a fair bit of time making sure the person is getting to the right service -- it's the right service for the right amount of time. That's critical for making a good use of the tax dollars. We're making sure that when people are connected to the service they are connected to the service that's most appropriate for them. If you've got a family where there's a crisis going on and maybe a substance abuse issues for the parents, the kids may end up in a counseling program."

Making sure people get what they need to get better and no longer need service is the ultimate goal. That can mean addressing issues such as housing assistance, job training and life skills. Someone who has been in and out of the hospital for years trying to deal with mental health diagnosis such as schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder or major depression isn't likely to have a solid work history or educational background, which are critical for getting a job and starting to build a healthy life (See "Free From My Psychotic Fall," issue of Jan. 17).

'In the streets'
Those with mental illness aren't the only ones who need help. Because mental illness can be difficult to recognize in a crisis, the Cincinnati Police Department also benefits from the mental health levy.

"Through Mobile Crisis, social workers ... ride in the car with the police," Tribee says. "It really assists in trying to distinguish somebody who is really in the midst of having a crisis with their mental health and trying to gear them into treatment.

"That's what the Mobile Crisis Team's really about -- being out there in the streets, whether it be working with somebody who's run into a police situation or quite often it could be a family or an office that somebody's wandered into and seems to be having mental health problems."

A critical aspect of helping those in need is juggling a variety of issues. For those who are severely disabled, this help comes in the form of a case manager. This person works with people to make sure all treatment providers are working in concert and provide the client with assistance related to things most people take for granted, such as reminders to take medication, according to Tribee.

"There's still a lot of stigma, but I think we're in an era where people better understand the role that mental health problems can cause in the community," he says. "You don't have to look very far. Even your own insurance policies don't very often carry mental health care. This levy provides very critical mental health care for people who cannot afford that care."

Issue 28 is a 2.99 mill levy that will be in place for the next five years. The annual cost of the levy is $43.86 for the owner of a $100,000 house, an increase of $7.40 over the current rate -- or about two cents per day, according to www.mentalhealthworks.org.

The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes has not taken a position opposing the mental health levy, according to Chris Finney, spokesman for the organization. ©



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