Task Force Convenes At Big Spring State Hospital to Gather Input On Growing Need for Mental Health Inpatient Care

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News Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Valerie Avery
May 7, 2010 (432) 816-9257


BIG SPRING – Public input is needed to address the growing need for mental health care in the state of Texas.

Members of a task force appointed by the Texas Department of State Health Services, which manages the 12 state hospitals in Texas, including Big Spring State Hospital will listen to public comment Friday, May 21, from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. in the Big Spring State Hospital Allred Building Auditorium.

Big Spring State Hospital is one of 12 state hospitals whose employees provide care for people with mental illness who can’t be cared for in the community through local mental health mental retardation or MHMR centers.

MHMR centers provide care for people with mental illness who live in the community. When it is determined that they need intensive treatment to manage their illness they are placed in a psychiatric hospital, said Shelley Smith, CEO of West Texas Centers for MHMR and a member of the task force.

“The mental health authorities, state hospitals, local jails, courts and other systems of care all are responsible for treating people with mental illness,” Smith said. “Our goal through this hearing is to bring all the interested parties together to help people living with mental illness. We all have our concerns and ideas on how to fix the system for our customers, but we all need to be on the same page so we are not duplicating services or not meeting someone’s needs.”

The 26–member task force involves a broad spectrum of Texans who are interested in improving the continuity of care for people living with mental illness. Many people living with mental illness travel through multiple systems of care, Smith said.

“Often one hand does not know what the other hand is doing,” Smith said. “This task force will bring all the parties to the table and work on the best solution for our customers.”

“We want to provide the best care in the most efficient way possible with the least amount of disruption to our customer’s lives,” she said.

Access to care is one of the most critical issues affecting the public mental health system in Texas, Smith said. To address this issue, the Texas Department of State Health Services has assembled a Continuity of Care Task Force to recommend ways to handle this growing problem

The Task Force has met three times and will wrap up its findings on June 18 during the Texas Council of Community MHMR Centers State meeting in Houston before presenting a final report to the Department of State Health Services on Sept. 30.

Two public forums have been held so far in LaGrange and Harlingen with a third scheduled for May 11 in Dallas. The fourth will be in Big Spring on May 21 with a final forum set for May 27 in Austin.

Task force members are looking at ways to compensate for the increase in forensic patients and longer-term patients who account for most of the patients treated in state hospitals. Forensic patients are those who overlap the mental health system and the criminal justice system, said Howard County Sheriff Stan Parker, who also is a member of the task force.

Patients are on waiting lists for state hospitals because of the increase in forensic commitments, Smith said. Also of concern to the task force is the length of stay for some patients who stay in the hospital longer than a year.

“Law enforcement officers also are responsible for transporting patients to the state hospital – sometimes from several hundred miles away,” Parker said. “To lawmen in small counties where only one or two deputies are covering a huge area, this takes away valuable personnel from their home county leaving the citizens unprotected. You also are talking about a great deal of overtime pay as well to transfer the patients.”

Many recommendations are on the table, including changing the mental health code, which is out of date with regard to the current system, residential alternatives to hospitalization, and the trend of defense attorneys raising the competency issue too often and too soon.

“The mental health system is in a great state of flux,” Smith said. “We have many, many issues we have to address. That is why we want to hear from the public. That is who we serve and that is who we need to tell us how to fix the system.”

For more information on the hearing, please visit: http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/mhsa/continuityofcare/

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Last updated December 17, 2010