Plan crafted to work on mental wellness | ParkRecord.com

Plan crafted to work on mental wellness

Summit County Health Department Director Rich Bullough was never completely confident that the lack in availability of mental health and substance abuse services in the county would ever be adequately addressed until last week.

The community and local government's commitment to improving mental health and substance abuse services reached a critical juncture on Nov. 15 when the Summit County Council unanimously agreed to adopt the Summit County Mental Wellness Strategic Plan — an effort several years in the making.

"It feels awesome and I'm thrilled," Bullough said. "When I was in the recent Council meeting, it hit me how far have we have come. I wasn't certain we would ever get there. It has been a long road and the fact that now we are setting the priorities to the plan is actually pretty mind blowing."

Bullough said he sat down with representatives of Valley Behavioral Health about five years ago to discuss the annual plan the health provider develops and began to ask questions about its focus and what outcomes were being measured.

"It was then that we began to think that this conversation required more attention than it had previously been given," he said.

Once officials broached the topic with the Summit County Council in 2015, a committee made up of legal figures was formed. The effort continued to snowball and grew to include more than 100 community figures, including representatives from Valley Behavioral Health, the county's three school districts, government leaders, health providers, faith-based organizations and private citizens.

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A community steering committee, along with the Summit County Council, Valley Behavioral Health and Summit County Health Department, spent several months creating a survey to assess the community's mental health and substance abuse needs. The results of the assessment were critical in allowing health leaders to understand the gaps in services.

"The assessment was really the first step in identifying the hard data," Bullough said. "There weren't any great surprises that came from that, but it allowed us to hone in on the specific issues."

Bullough said it became clear that wait times for clinicians were high and a dedicated councilor is needed for eastern Summit County, among other needs.

The Mental Wellness Strategic Plan was created from the collected data, along with the help of more than 120 citizens over the past year. The document identifies the county's mental health and substance abuse needs and outlines strategies for improvement of services and education in the coming years.

The five strategic goals that are identified in it are: access, prevention and education, success and sustainability, recovery and reintegration, and equity. Part of the plan includes budgetary requests that are being considered by the County Council.

At the Nov. 15 meeting, County Manager Tom Fisher strongly encouraged Council members to prioritize funding for mental health and substance abuse services, particularly because it has been identified as one of the Council's strategic goals.

"I am extremely excited to be a part of Summit County's Strategic Plan," Dodi Wilson, Valley Behavioral Health's executive director, said in a press release. "I look forward to continuing work with our unbelievably dedicated community partners to expand and enrich services to all of our community members in need of mental health and/or substance abuse services."

Aaron Newman, the Health Department's mental health and substance abuse coordinator, said in a press release the adoption of the strategic plan marks a milestone in "our collective work moving forward."

"This would not have been possible without the dedication and hard work of the community," he said. "Already many of the committees are moving forward and I cannot wait to see the new momentum this brings to our work."

Now that the plan has come to fruition, Bullough said the next step is implementation.

"We can't implement everything at once," he said. "But, we have set some priorities and those are, quite frankly, modest. But, they are tangible."

Bullough said the strategic plan will serve as an evolving document that will be continuously evaluated for improvements and updates.

"It is incredibly important that we evaluate and continuously measure our outcomes," he said. "This stuff – creating the plan — has been by comparison to implementation the easy part. But, what is happening in Summit County now is special and we have the momentum. Many communities are looking to us to see how we are doing this. It is now time to roll up our sleeves and make sure the people stay focused and keep a clear vision of what our priorities are because the real work is just beginning."