Team aims to improve mental health (Denton Record-Chronicle)

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As published in the Denton Record-Chronicle and Dallas Morning News, Aug. 21, 2015

Community leaders made it official Thursday, adopting a charter and by-laws for the Denton County Behavioral Health Leadership Team.

The quasi-governmental group will meet monthly for at least the next six months to begin the hard work of improving the accessibility and quality of local services for people with mental illness.

Former Denton City Council member Joe Mulroy, who agreed to serve as the team’s co-chairman for the first year, told fellow appointees what he thought success would look like — a person or family in crisis could “call a single phone number and we didn’t let go until their life was put back together.”

Until recently, Denton County had the lowest per capita funding for mental health services in the state, and Texas was near the bottom in funding in the nation. The United Way of Denton County published a local mental health needs assessment in 2013 after Mulroy advocated — and also offered to help pay — for it.

An updated assessment was published in 2014, showing that funding had increased somewhat.

The United Way of Denton County found about 77,136 county residents likely have mental illness, with about 13,408 of those being adults with severe mental illness.

The Denton County MHMR has the capacity to serve about 13 percent of them. Services for children are even more under funded. An estimated 4,976 Denton County children have a severe mental illness, and Denton County MHMR has the capacity to serve about 8 percent of them.

Barbara Gailey, who serves as chairwoman of the Denton County MHMR board of directors, also will serve as the team’s chairwoman for the first year.

A report from the team’s work groups showed some changes already were taking place, even as the team drafts its first strategic plan.

A work group focused on the county’s nascent Mental Health Court, which has been successful in finding lower cost evaluations for clients interested in working with the court, according to MHC work group chairman Tami Russell.

Work groups for jail diversion and the Mental Health Court hope to reduce the number of people with mental illness entering the criminal justice system.

Other work groups helping to make changes in local systems have focused on veterans, housing, child and family systems and more.

County Commissioner Bobbie Mitchell, who is representing Commissioners Court on the team, recommended that more people who are, or were, system “users” be involved with the team.

The group agreed clients and their families might also have a work group and send representatives to other work groups to assist with planning.

The team’s next meeting, which is open to the public, is scheduled for Sept. 17 at the offices of United Way of Denton County, 1314 Teasley Lane.

For more information, visit the United Way website at www.unitedwaydenton.org/DCCCMH.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.

IN THE KNOW

The Denton County Behavioral Health Leadership Team adopted a charter Thursday that provides for at least 15 and no more than 33 members.

The quasi-governmental group includes appointees from the following entities:

  • Denton County Commissioners Court
  • Denton City Council
  • Lewisville City Council
  • Small cities and town councils
  • Health systems, hospitals, health department and MHMR
  • Health insurance providers
  • School districts, higher education institutions, law enforcement, other human service systems
  • United Way of Denton County