The expectations, frustrations and hopes of nearly 60 people were manifested during the first of two public listening sessions regarding the state of mental health care in Walla Walla County.
Hosted by the Human Services Research Institute of Massachusetts, the afternoon meeting on Wednesday, October 20 revealed multiple issues in serving people who use behavioral health services here.
HSRI has been engaged by the county to explore and define what care is in place, what gaps need to be addressed, and how to achieve a more robust level of behavioral health care.
The Zoom conference was packed with service users, field workers and people from partner organizations. Justice, long-term care, corrections, medicine, municipal governments and non-profit organizations were represented.
After participants discussed in small groups, a joint conversation in the second half of the meeting helped to name the most pressing issues found.
The combined lists of needs, deficits and options include:
Coordination of care – Many people pointed out that agencies often duplicate and overlap certain services. Primary care physicians do not always know where to refer clients for brain health, communication between providers can be delayed, and Walla Walla County does not have a directory of all providers.
Cody Maine, a community paramedic with the Walla Walla Fire Department, said he sees a lot of really good, well-meaning organizations for a county this size, “but we’re really badly networked.”
Several people brought up the idea of ââthe âair traffic controllerâ model, where a dedicated person or organization directs people to care, help and available resources of many types.
A quarterly forum between care and aid providers would make it possible to disseminate up-to-date information to all.
Lodging – Years of insufficient affordable housing means more people are homeless, which means more barriers to good health, participants said.
Professionals – Walla Walla needs more than a psychiatrist, several people noted. There is a demand for more qualified counselors, including those who speak Spanish, more behavioral health providers, staff trained to divert people from emergency rooms to the right care, peer helpers, more help âIn personâ and less telehealth.
Staff trained in behavioral health can be incorporated into law enforcement, and a court-to-family liaison for clients with behavioral health issues would be a boon.
Education – Walla Walla County Commissioners should have a better understanding of mental health needs to direct funding to resources. Agencies need training on what Washington’s recent police reform law means to respond to mental health crises.
Providers can learn to ask clients what else they need help with outside the scope of what an agency provides, such as food.
Doctors and counselors can be trained in trauma-informed practices and alternative therapies.
Emergency dispatchers who have been trained in behavioral health can sort out crisis calls and transfer people to the appropriate agency.
Money – Appropriate reimbursement for mental health care, paid in a timely manner, is necessary, as is the possibility for more agencies to accept private insurance. Services should be streamlined in order to make better use of available funds.
Services – There is a need for more after-hours and weekend services designed for workers. There should be more availability for walk-in appointments. Protocols in place can help respect the cultural norms of different populations of people using behavioral health services.
A medical detox center closer to Walla Walla would help families stay connected, which would improve outcomes of care. Behavioral health help needs to be readily available before people find themselves in a full blown crisis. Finding higher levels of care not available locally is a problem now, and clearer steps to obtaining services should be defined.
Ensuring the safety of older people with mental illness in their own community was mentioned, as was the implementation of a supervised ‘sober sober’ model and a program that provides long-lasting drug refills or injectables. to those who cannot get their prescriptions.
Without these, Maine said, “These are a self-induced roller coaster of symptoms and do not reach therapeutic levels of drugs.”
Meeting participants indicated that the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness was of great interest to the community. The family rights group has been functioning well and has been providing training for the Walla Walla Valley for many years.
Bevin Croft, senior HSRI researcher who moderated the listening session, said it is sometimes difficult for community providers to hear what is being said in public forums on mental health care.
It can be difficult to listen to real and perceived shortcomings, Croft said.
âBut you can’t fix a problem if you don’t name it,â she said.
His team received some valuable information about the event and will get more from the Spanish session scheduled for 4 p.m. on November 3.
HRSI will then conduct in-depth interviews with many members of the community, then gather all the information and use multiple data to prepare a report on actions Walla Walla County can take to improve behavioral health care here.
County public health director Dr Daniel Kaminsky said Thursday, October 21, that he attended Wednesday’s event as an auditor.
âI was impressed that people were willing to be open and honest with their opinions and ideas. “
Kaminsky agrees with Croft that moments like this can be rough.
âBut we have to do this to get better, to heal and to build something big. I am happy that at the end we have a clear overview. This is just the beginning.”