Panel discusses future of Lancaster County mental health care

Mark Vasina, of Nebraskans for Peace, begins the panel on Lancaster County's mental healthcare transition to privatized care.

Mark Vasina, of Nebraskans for Peace, begins the panel on Lancaster County's mental healthcare transition to privatized care.

Story and Photo by Mallory Miller

Mental health care in Lancaster County is posed to transition from public to private in July, yet many people are concerned about how the transition will affect the quality of care.

That is why Nebraskans for Peace organized a panel discussion Tuesday night to discuss the issue. The panelists were Topher Hansen, executive director of CenterPointe, one of the companies that will be contracted to provide mental health services; Lancaster County Commissioner Jane Raybould; and Dean Settle, former executive director of Community Mental Health Services of Lancaster County.

Region V Systems, which currently handles metal health care funds from the state and federal government, will take over county services as well. Region V contracts with a variety of companies to provide different mental health services.

Hansen told the crowd that he believes that both the business and health care sides need to work correctly in order to provide high quality care.

“We need to get people better sooner, for longer,” Hansen said. “(That involves) having a toolbox that works for every person.”

He said he believes the best way to make things run more smoothly on the business side is to have a better system for data management. That would allow for more access to information and centralized scheduling. Improved scheduling would make a waiting list “disappear.”

“The sooner we can see people, the better,” Hansen said. “We need to have an attitude and approach of recovery and let people know that they don’t have to be here the rest of their lives.”

The journey toward transition

The conversation about transitioning the responsibilities of the Community Mental Health Center (CMHC) to Region V began in April of 2011. The plan  was to have the transition complete by June 2011.  But after city officials, the Lincoln Police Department and members of the CMHC board objected to the quick time frame, the process of getting input from the community began.

By setting up a survey and hotline with the help of Community Health Endowment and Leadership Lincoln, the planning community received more than  500 responses from consumers, family, advocates and providers. Raybould noted that all of these responses were taken into account in the future planning of the transition.

“I am proud of the way (the process) went,” she said. “Without it, we wouldn’t know about opportunities to be better. Region V learned a lot, too. The process has been sound and transparent.”

The problem with the transition is that after 24 months, there is no plan for the county to provide any funding for mental health services. According to Raybould, Lancaster County’s new jail, which cost $65 million to build, is soaking up too much money to guarantee funding for non-mandated programs.

Transitioning people from incarceration to the community

Settle said his main concern for the transition to privatized mental healthcare for the county is that services will decline for people who have been in jail.

“(County mental healthcare) is a really essential system,” Settle said. “A non-profit business might not be able to provide treatment for sex offenders, for example.”

Settle also pointed out that a non-profit may not have the resources the county had. One topic that was discussed during the panel was the need for transportation for consumers to appointments. The county had 43 vehicles at their disposal, where a company like CenterPointe only has two. This could mean decreased services for the community.

Settle said helping former inmates make the transition from jail to the community needs to be addressed — and it needs to be done  within the first week, Settle said. Others in the audience expressed this sentiment as well.

Changing the culture

Many in the audience wanted to know what the public could do to help this transition. The three panelists said the culture needs to change so that mental illness no longer is a stigma. Hansen said that people can call their senators and representatives and ask them to support the federal Excellence in Mental Health Act.

Jean Krejci, a retired anthropologist who worked for 19 years in public health who attended the event, believes the important thing is that politicians not “play politics” when it comes to issues of mental health.

“The more we integrate teaching and the community, and get the politicians on board, and get everyone to work together the more successful the transition will be,” Krejci said.

Here is more information about the transition from Lancaster County officials.

The transition of mental healthcare services in Lancaster County from public to private will begin this July. This panel, set up by Nebraskans for Peace, invited mental health professionals and the public to learn about how the process was set up over the past two years.


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