Douglas County Commission approves agreement to expand mental health crisis team

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World File Photo

The Douglas County Courthouse is pictured in September 2018.

As part of their larger efforts to improve mental health care in Douglas County, county leaders have approved funding to support additional personnel for mental health crisis response.

As part of its meeting Wednesday, the Douglas County Commission voted unanimously to approve a community partner agreement with LMH Health to expand the Douglas County Integrated Crisis Team at a cost not to exceed $466,000 over the next year, according to the agreement.

Commission Vice Chair Shannon Reid said the expansion was needed to address gaps in service and she hoped it would contribute to a smooth opening for the county’s new mental health Crisis and Recovery Center, which is scheduled to open at the beginning of next year.

“It makes a lot of sense to me that this is a focus of work right now as we are building that Crisis Recovery Center,” Reid said. “I think it’s a really necessary acknowledgement that there have been gaps in our community and now is the time to start addressing them and figuring out a kind of skeletal structure of what things can look like.”

The agreement includes funding for up to 4.9 full-time positions of behavioral health clinician support for the Integrated Crisis Team and is part of the county’s larger effort to improve mental health care.

County Administrator Sarah Plinsky previously told the Journal-World that the total size of the Integrated Crisis Team could grow to 9.8 full-time positions, and that the team would provide full 24/7 coverage at LMH Health and facilitate an extension of the Bert Nash Access Center hours, allowing the center to be open until 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. Plinsky said that over the next 12 months, the team’s work and location would transition from the LMH Emergency Department to the Crisis Recovery Center.

The initial term of the agreement approved Wednesday will be for one year, beginning on May 1, 2021. During that time, the agreement requires the hospital to maintain a dashboard with mutually agreed-upon data fields regarding behavioral health services. A sample dashboard includes information such as the number of emergency room visits, how those compare to the number of nonemergency patient visits, and the number of patients transferred to other facilities, among other data.

Commissioner Patrick Kelly said he hoped the expansion of the crisis team and the data being gathered would help inform decisions about the Crisis and Recovery Center. Kelly said he was concerned about whether the expansion would provide enough additional personnel, and that he would like to get an overview of what has been learned once the county is closer to opening the center.

“I think that’s something we will need to consider going forward,” Kelly said, adding that he saw the addition as an improvement. “I do think it’s helping us try to serve this really difficult-to-serve population better.”

Douglas County residents voted to approve a quarter-cent sales tax to support the creation of a behavioral health campus in 2018. The 20,000-square-foot Crisis and Recovery Center is part of the county’s new $10.4-million campus focused on behavioral health housing and treatment, located at 1000 W. Second St. Construction of the $8 million center, the largest piece of the campus, is expected to be complete by the end of this year.

As part of its study session, the commission got a preliminary estimate of the startup costs for the Crisis and Recovery Center. Behavioral Health Partners, the nonprofit organization formed by LMH Health and Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center to run the new crisis center, estimates startup costs for 2021 will be about $1.26 million, including about $899,000 in staffing and personnel and about $358,000 in operational start-up costs. The crisis center’s 2021 pre-funding agreement will come back to the commission for consideration at a later date.

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