Lewis County Commissioners unanimously endorsed additional mental health fund expenditures totaling $171,629 in addition to a total of approximately $2.3 million in such expenditures already included in the county’s preliminary 2020 budget.
The money comes from the county’s one tenth of 1 percent mental health and substance abuse sales tax.
The commissioners voiced their approval of the additional appropriations during Wednesday’s preliminary budget roundtable, saying the expenses were an investment in reducing the volume of future crimes.
The requests were made by the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, the Juvenile Court Division and Superior Court.
Commissioner Bobby Jackson was particularly impressed with a presentation offered by Superior County Coordinator Stephanie Miller, who said 69 percent of Lewis County Drug Court have graduated over the last two years.
She noted that those types of programs — therapeutic courts that substitute substance-abuse treatment for incarceration — typically see only 50 percent of their participants graduate
“Stephanie, I’ve heard you talk about the numbers and I’ve heard those before of how it’s a 50-50 proposition. There’s too many (addicts) who have gotten cleaned up and go right back into that life and it’s a vicious circle,” Jackson said. “But instead of 50 percent … it was knocked back another 19 percent. These are the things that impressed me and these are the things that I think require us to approve this.”
In total, Lewis County Superior Court asked the Board of County Commissioners for $81,329 for Drug Court and $8,700 that would go toward Family Recovery Court.
Superior Court Judge Andrew Toynbee, who accompanied Miller, called Drug Court a “game changer” for participants, their families and the Lewis County community.
“I think the biggest recruiting now is done by other participants that are advocating our program. Their friends are seeing them succeed and even the people who are being sanctioned by Drug Court while they’re in jail are saying that this is a great program,” he stated. “It’s really, really difficult to stabilize and be able to concentrate on treatment when there’s no place to go, no place to live, no place to put your stuff.”
Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer said the program has 70 participants currently and also benefits “generations of people” that law enforcement potentially won’t have to deal with in future years.
Others at the budget meeting included Juvenile Court Division Administrator Shad Hail, Sheriff Rob Snaza and Sheriff’s Office Corrections Chief Chris Sweet, who outlined their need for funding for mental health assessments and mental health prescription costs.
Sweet said that the Sheriff’s Office would require $81,600 to ensure services for Lewis County Jail inmates, including consultations and the treatment of substance-abuse disorders.
He asked the commissioners for an increase from last year’s allotment, saying the Sheriff’s Office will lose funding from Great Rivers BHO (Behavioral Healthcare Options) — a fiscal agent for publicly funded mental and substance use treatment in Cowlitz, Grays Harbor, Lewis, Pacific and Wahkiakum counties.
“We have also experienced a reduction of reimbursement money that was given to us for substance use disorder through our contract services through Cascade (Mental Health Care),” said Sweet.
Hail, of the Juvenile Court Division, said the successful outcomes of combining medical and mental-health programs within his facility, have resulted in the reduction of incidents in which staff must use force against inmates.
He said the funding has also increased his staff’s level of knowledge and allowed his department to create plans to helping youth transition from incarceration back to their normal life.
“So, it’s not like those services drop off when they walk out the door. But part of that effort is to make referrals and future appointments and our probation department works with the program to make sure we can do everything we can,” added Hail.
Snaza said the $81,600 request for the Sheriff’s Office would help his department continue to serve inmates with mental health and substance abuse issues.
“If you’re going to a facility and someone comes in who has a mental issue, they’re relieved to know that there’s someone there who cares,” he said. “When the tax was (voted in) … I think it has grown bigger than anyone thought it would in benefit. Quite honestly, the request for $171,000— I don’t know why we would say no to any of that.”
Lewis County’s one-tenth of 1 percent mental health sales and use tax was passed in 2011 and collects money to go toward chemical dependency treatment, mental health treatment and therapeutic court programs and services.
Director of Public Health and Social Services J.P. Anderson advocated in favor of early interventions for mental health patients. He specifically addressed how Cascade lost crisis stabilization beds that would offer law enforcement another location to take suspects to other than jail.
He advised that the county look into working with local healthcare providers for those types of services and also recommended “keeping some extra funds available” in the future in the interest of enhancing early interventions countywide.
Commissioners Stamper and Fund were in lockstep with Jackson in issuing their undivided support for the $171,629 funding request, with Stamper also praising the Drug Court program for graduating an average of 15 rehabilitated substance users per year.
“I come from the public education world too,” said Stamper, a former high school principal. “But I didn’t know this side of it. As I continue to connect the dots, I think it’s a very, very small investment for the future stability of Lewis County. And so, I would support these programs.”
Fund made sure to point out that the endgame of these public endeavors should be to get patients “to work” and “make sure they don’t have too much time on their hands.”
In terms of additional dollars that could be coming down the pike, Meyer notified public officials that an undetermined amount of money could soon be available from an ongoing opioid litigation that his office is currently involved in. Those monies, he suggested, would be a “great way” of supplementing mental health care services.