County leaders seek to improve behavioral health services (Lewisville Leader)

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As published in the Lewisville Leader, June 19, 2015

Denton County leaders are taking steps to provide better care for residents seeking behavioral health services through a new leadership team.

The Denton County Behavioral Health Leadership Team is a collaborative effort among the United Way of Denton County (UWDC) and various leaders in Denton County's cities. It is charged with improving healthcare offered for those with mental health issues or illnesses. Leaders came together for the first meeting June 11 at United Way of Denton County.

"This is a way to bring together members of the community to study ideas on how to handle residents with mental health or illnesses," said Lewisville Police Chief Russ Kerbow. "Our county and state has a lot less funding when compared to others. We’re trying to figure out how to better use the existing resources we have and how to go after additional funding."

The team will be made up of representatives from the Denton County Commissioner's Court, Denton City Council, Lewisville City Council, small cities/towns councils, health systems hospitals, MHMR of Denton County, Denton County Health Department, health funders/insurance providers, Denton and Lewisville ISDs, higher education, law enforcement, housing, Wellness Alliance for Total Children's Health (WATCH) and UWDC. Kerbow said he has appointed several officers to serve on the law enforcement side of the team.

"There will be a series of work groups that will study issues as it relates to jail diversion, housing, mental health court and anything else that could have impact on mental health issues," Kerbow said. "This will be a policy making body that will benefit the entire county."

During its first meeting, Kerbow said members voted to meet once a month but gradually stretch it out to once a quarter.

"There are problems we want to solve initially, but I think this leadership team will be in place for a while," Kerbow said.

Lewisville City Councilman TJ Gilmore and Melinda Galler, Lewisville's assistant city manager, were appointed to the team during Monday's council meeting. Gilmore said his role on the team is to provide input from the Lewisville perspective.

"Our goal as a team is to formulate a county wide strategy for dealing with mental health issues," Gilmore said. "I felt it was important, because Lewisville is the second biggest city in the county, that it had a strong voice on the team."

Gilmore said he felt his background, including time spent as a member of the Community Development Block Grant committee and on the city council, has prepared him for his role on the team.

The Denton County Behavioral Health Leadership Team is a project more than a year and a half in the making. In 2014, stakeholders commissioned the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute across North Texas to complete a mental health needs assessment on Denton County. The report, delivered to UWDC's board of directors in April, urged UWDC to be the driving force in creating a behavioral health leadership team that would "represent the needs of communities across Denton County and serve as a catalyst for system change."

As part of the study, the United Way of Denton County's Citizen's Council on Mental Health was formed to study the issues and to gain an understanding on the shortcomings within the county. According to the report, "the Citizen's Council on Mental Health is one of the fastest developing, inclusive community collaboration processes that the MMHPI team has observed. Having brought together a critical mass of local leaders catalyzed for system change, the time has come to embrace system change formally and to organize for that purpose."

"The Denton County Behavioral Health Leadership Team will help the county as we approach foundations to get grants for mental health programs," Kerbow said. "It will make it easier because we can show that we are a cohesive group working toward the same goals."

Kerbow said it is important that law enforcement is involved with the team because they often receive calls involving someone with mental health issues.

"People don’t know who to call in those situations, so we often have to respond to those calls," Kerbow said. "The last place they [people with mental health issues] need to be is a jail. We need to have ability to help people in a proactive way and to determine if they need assistance before they act out."

Kerbow said police officers receive some basic training in handling people with mental health issues, but they are not equipped to handle every scenario.

"We know how to deal with scenarios as best as we can, mainly when it simply involves someone who has gone off their medication," Kerbow said. "However we’re not equipped to handle major psychotic breaks."

The Denton County Behavioral Health Leadership Team deployed five workgroups including veterans, mental health court, jail diversion, housing and child and family systems. It also includes two subcommittees: bylaws and governance and strategic planning.

So far the Denton County Behavioral Health Leadership Team includes the following members:

  • Denton County Commissioner’s Court: Commissioner Bobbie J. Mitchell
  • Denton County Commissioner’s Court: Judge Coby Waddill
  • Denton County Commissioner’s Court: Joe Mulroy, community member
  • Denton County Commissioner’s Court: Matt Richardson, health department director
  • City of Denton: Mayor Chris Watts
  • City of Denton: Bryan Langley, assistant city manager
  • Denton Regional Medical Center: Nicki Roderman, chief nursing officer
  • Texas Health Presbyterian Denton: Timothy Harris, chief medical officer
  • Medical Center of Lewisville: Jim Russell, chief operating officer
  • Denton County MHMR: Barbara Gailey, board of directors
  • Health Services of North Texas: Louise Baldwin, board of directors
  • Denton Community Health Clinic: Elizabeth Ferring, board of directors
  • Beacon Health Options: Gary Seguin, program director
  • Denton ISD: Richard Valenta, deputy superintendent of schools
  • Lewisville ISD: Monya Crow, CHOICES coordinator
  • Texas Woman's University: Monica Mendez-Grant, vice president of student life
  • University of North Texas: Teresa McKinney, assistant vice president of student affairs and wellness
  • North Central Texas College: Roxanne Del-Rio, associate dean for Denton County campuses
  • Denton Police Department: Chief Lee Howell
  • Lewisville Police Department: Chief Russ Kerbow
  • City of Lewisville: TJ Gilmore, council member, and Melinda Galler, assistant city manager
  • Denton Housing Authority: Bill Giese, board of directors
  • Wellness Alliance for Total Children's Health (WATCH): Lisa Elliott, coalition chairwoman
  • United Way of Denton County: Derrell Bulls, board of directors

Additional appointments will be completed for the August meeting of the Denton County Behavioral Health Leadership Team including appointments from the Lewisville City Council, Small City/Town Council(s) and the board of directors for Denton Affordable Housing.

The complete MMHPI report is available at www.unitedwaydenton.org/MentalHealth.

For information visit www.unitedwaydenton.org or call 940-566-5851.

Heather M. Goodwin, Community Editor, hgoodwin@starlocalmedia.com