Exploring Summit County’s mental health gap
September 22, 2015
The conversations surrounding mental health and substance abuse are often personal and can be emotionally draining, according to Richard Bullough, Summit County Health director.
However, they are discussions that Bullough says will continue because they provide officials with a clearer understanding of the strengths and weaknesses in Summit County’s mental health and substance abuse system.
Since officials broached the topic with the Summit County Council in May, several internal meetings have taken place to begin exploring the issue. A committee made up of legal figures, including Judge Shauna Kerr, County Attorney Robert Hilder, Park City Police Chief Wade Carpenter and Sheriff Justin Martinez, has been formed. The group meets monthly.
It has been primarily exploring the county’s legal and the mental health services, if any, that are being provided at the time of an arrest, such as inpatient and detoxification treatment.
Several of the members, including Bullough, recently traveled to Grand Junction, Colorado, to learn about their system. It has been nationally recognized, Bullough said.
"A comment very relevant to us was made down there when someone said, ‘this will only work if you have the right players at the table and they like each other.’ And we do," Bullough said.
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In conjunction with the legal committee, Bullough says he has been joined by Nann Worel, executive director of the People’s Health Clinic, and Park City Mayor Jack Thomas in spearheading an effort to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the county’s services.
"When someone says describe the picture, I can’t," Bullough said, echoing a statement he made in May. "But I’m hopeful someone in our county, whether it’s me or not, will eventually be able to say, ‘Here it is and here are all the components of what we do here. Here is how they fit together, here are the gaps and here is what we are doing to address those.’
"I think that’s the endgame," he said. "And I think it’s about a year away."
Since the conversations have started, more and more families have come forward with anecdotal evidence of trying to navigate the system.
"I’ve gotten a lot of phone calls, maybe as many phone calls on this that I’ve gotten on any other issue since I’ve been in this job," Bullough said, adding he’s had more than 30 calls from people who not only have firsthand experience, but also professionals.
"This isn’t going to be a county solution," Bullough said. "The county isn’t going to solve this. It is bigger than that and we will need a lot of players to solve it."
As the process continues, officials are planning several outreach efforts, including community forums, to encourage people to share their experiences. However, nothing is currently scheduled. Smaller groups are being organized and meeting regularly, although none wished to provide comment.
Summit County Council Chair Kim Carson only recently became involved in the process. Carson said she personally knows people in the community who have had issues in this area and with no options to pursue, piquing her interest.
"I think it has really opened my eyes to the needs in the community and how we can make a difference," Carson said.
Carson became involved with the Utah Association of Counties initiative to explore the role of individual counties in reducing recidivism in response to the passing of HB 348. The bill aims to reduce the prison population.
"I do strongly believe that we need help and we need to look at how we provide those services both in and out of the corrections system," Carson said. "I think there is a real need and it’s something that will take a team approach. It’s not something just one jurisdiction or organization can tackle."
Carson said "anecdotally we are aware there is an issue out there, but we really need that community study completed so we can identify them and then we can look at possible solutions."
"That’s why I say we are really in our infancy," Carson said. "The actual study part is just getting underway at a deeper level and I’m anxious to get additional information on just what the issues are so we can start looking at some solutions and how we might go about funding this. I just appreciate everyone’s willingness to be at the table."
Anyone interested in participating in the conversation or sharing their experience, can contact Health Director Rich Bullough call 435-333-1582.
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