A recent USDA funding commitment could benefit Crook County Mental Health programs

In Crook County and other areas throughout the country, mental health services tend to lack the funds to provide the services the community needs.

“We are always looking to find ways to have additional financial support,” said Melissa Williams, interim area director for Lutheran Community Services. “We’re always really looking at new programs that we can provide, looking at new ways of doing things.”

In an effort to help the Crook County mental health department and others nationwide, the USDA recently announced plans to invest up to $50 million to increase mental health care in rural areas during the next three years.

“We need to be sure that every American has access to quality mental health services, including Americans living in rural areas,” said USDA Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. He added that the investments will reduce the difficulty that many rural families face in accessing mental help and enable communities to improve on the services already offered.

Since the announcement was made a month ago, Williams said that the details of the funding have not been determined, so she is unclear what impact the pledged support will have on the local mental health program. Nevertheless, she believes any new funding helps.

“There are certainly things we have been struggling with,” she said. “One of them is effective crisis service in the community.”

Williams explained that Crook County contracts with the Mobile Crisis Assessment Team (MCAT), a Deschutes County-run program. When local crisis concerns arise at the same time that MCAT is dealing with a Deschutes County issue, it can be difficult to get help with the local problem.

Crises intervention is one of three areas that Crook County Mental Health prioritizes. They also focus on providing treatment for adults with severe and persistent mental illness, and provide care to children with severe mental illnesses.

Therefore, when funding is scarce, local mental health professionals have to focus primarily on those priorities, instead of committing resources to other needs throughout the community.

“We are really being reactive,” Williams said. “We really don’t have the funding and support to provide preventative services as much, so as a result, clients are ending up in the jails, or they are driving up health care costs by repeatedly going to the emergency room.”

Crook County Undersheriff believes that mental health issues can be attributed to a large portion of the crimes they deal with, particularly when it comes to substance abuse or addiction.

“Obviously, any services that can help a person with any mental issues will be a benefit to us,” he said.

Gautney said that law enforcement is focusing more on recognizing and taking action with people whose actions are driven by mental health problems. However, the degree to which they can do so is limited, and he feels that mental health professionals are best suited to deal with and help reduce the incidents of crimes associated with poor mental health.

“Mental health is a big help,” he said.

Although funding is short of what Crook County Mental Health needs, they have benefitted from some recent help, including grant money awarded for crisis intervention work. Williams is hoping the USDA funding, whatever that may be, will also enable them to make improvements to their programs.

“Any type of additional support is really helpful,” she said.

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