Mental health talk highlights Summit County’s successes and ongoing efforts to tackle issues | ParkRecord.com

Mental health talk highlights Summit County’s successes and ongoing efforts to tackle issues

Summit County Council Chair Kim Carson, third from left, addresses the Council's role in reducing the gaps in the county's mental health and substance abuse services during a panel discussion on Thursday. The event was part of an ongoing series of discussions and panels hosted by CONNECT Summit County for Mental Health Awareness Month.

When Ed and Lynne Rutan urged Summit County's elected officials and leaders at the Health Department to make it a priority to better understand the community's mental health and substance abuse needs four years ago, it kicked off a countywide effort to improve the system.

The Rutans went on to form the nonprofit CONNECT Summit County, and the county followed closely behind in creating Summit County's Mental Wellness Alliance. The organizations now work together to address mental health issues in the county, including providing education and access to services.

"It began to gel that conversation and the notion that we were vested in this," said Rich Bullough, director of the Health Department. "Since then, there has been a convergence of interest by community groups and individuals, and just about everyone you can think of has come to the table to say they would like to be involved."

CONNECT Summit County hosted the first of two panel discussions on Thursday night at the Summit County Services Building in Kamas to address the progress that has been made in reducing the gaps in the county's mental health and substance abuse services. About 10 people attended. A second discussion is scheduled to be held at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday at the Jim Santy Auditorium.

Bullough and Rutan were joined on the panel by: Summit County Council Chair Kim Carson; People's Health Clinic Executive Director Beth Armstrong; Mary Christa Smith, Summit County Health Department's Communities That Care and youth programs coordinator; Director of the Summit County Recovery Foundation Roy Parker; and Summit High School students Gracie Averett and Madelynn Percy.

Titled "How Are We Doing on Mental Health and Substance Abuse?" the discussions are intended to explore the programs that have been implemented within the past few years and identify the work that still needs to be done to overcome any perceived barriers to accessing services. The event was part of an ongoing series of discussions and panels hosted by CONNECT for Mental Health Awareness Month.

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"I heard Tom Fisher (county manager) say in another meeting that there isn't going to be a finish line that we are going to cross and I think that is correct," Bullough said. "There is always going to be a need and regardless of how much progress we make, there will be a shortage of providers."

But, he encouraged the other panelists and audience members to recognize the successes that have been made over the last few years to improve the situation.

All of the panelists praised the work that is being done across the county's three school districts to encourage students to become involved in the conversation. Clubs have been created at the high schools that have led to a more open dialogue among students about mental health and substance abuse. Smith, Summit County Health Department's Communities That Care and youth programs coordinator, said she has been inspired by the students who are joining in on the effort.

The People's Health Clinic has started a collaborative effort among mental health organizations to recruit more professionals who can help the clients that are seen at the clinic better address their health concerns, Armstrong said.

"But, there are barriers to care," she said. "We only provide service at the clinic for the uninsured. Another vulnerable population is the underinsured. Those are people who, no matter what their need is, they are not going to have coverage and will not seek help."

The more-than-hour-long discussion highlighted the implementation of new programs and services, as well as an ongoing willingness from the community to continue contributing to the effort.

Ed Rutan, co-founder of CONNECT, commended the nearly 60-page strategic plan that the county has created. He said it is replete with detailed programs that need to be implemented. The Summit County Council adopted the Summit County Mental Wellness Strategic Plan in November and contributed funds toward the implementation of the plan as part of the 2018 budget.

Rutan also mentioned the online directory CONNECT is creating of all the mental health and substance abuse services that are available to people in Summit County.

"I have been completely impressed, and not surprised, by the complete teamwork we see in our community," he said. "It is an incredible challenge we face in terms of mental health and substance abuse. There is not one group that can solve this. It requires we all work together to get the job done. I think we are fortunate to live in a community like this that sees the problem and we are rolling up our sleeves to get it done."

For more information about the other events CONNECT Summit County is hosting throughout the month of May, go to https://connectsummitcounty.org/.