Lincoln County Commissioners and the public got a little clearer picture on a recent dispute over whether there are enough mental health and addiction counselors to handle the caseload they have – especially in light of the fact that the county health department is in the process of laying off nine counselors.
Health Department Director Rebecca Austen, who succeeded recently terminated Director Cheryl Connell, said they’re in the process of re-organizing their service roster of counselors to make sure they’re aligned with the needs of those in the community that need addiction and mental health intervention. Austen said that despite recent layoffs, no one needing services will be turned away.
Stepping Up program advocate Steve Sparks added another layer to the discussion in that mental health issues, including addiction treatment and other behavioral health services, are very much needed in the jail. He said a third of the jail population broke the law in connection with their illnesses. Sparks says with the upcoming election with measure 21-186 on the ballot, enhanced services to jail inmates – aimed at getting them ready for treatment, so they can be treated outside of jail – will help reduce jail crowding. Sparks told the commissioners that Lincoln County has fallen behind other counties around the state who have figured out how to combine services – to “right size” them, so those who need help, get help, at the right time and in the right way. He said it’s all about coordination between government entities to properly meet the needs of troubled citizens – both in and out of jail. Sparks said, in effect, it’s a partnership that’s just waiting to happen – if Measure 21-186 passes on the May 15 ballot thereby providing the necessary revenues.
In the meantime Health Services Director Rebecca Austen says she continues to better organize her large department’s talent pool to ensure that everyone who comes to the county for mental health and addiction services continues to be well served.