Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What happens now?

Task force tries to fill void in service left by health office closure

Express Staff Writer

Blaine County's only state Health and Welfare office—which served about 80 clients in Bellevue—closed two weeks ago because of budget shortfalls, and community members have already come together to find service for the mental-health and child protection clients without a place to go.

Recognizing the potholes in the road is easy, but filling them in is another story.

However, 20 people have formed the Community Mental Health Task Force and held its first meeting on Wednesday, May 19, to discuss how it will be done. Members include local mental-health providers and representatives from St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center, Blaine County School District, Hailey Police Department, Blaine County Probation Department, Blaine County Commission, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Blaine County Drug Coalition.

Task force Co-Chair Erin Pfaeffle said in an interview that the group developed a clear purpose its first time together: to first identify the needs of both children and adults, then create the mental-health services to match. She said that includes substance-abuse services because, in many cases, that's clearly "wrapped" into mental-health problems.

Brenda Grupe, field services program manager for Idaho Health and Welfare, said at a community meeting May 3 that the department would open a makeshift office within the South Central Public Health District office in Bellevue. But, Grupe said, the makeshift Health and Welfare office will only be open one day a week for mental-health services and twice a week for child-welfare services. The former number of people can't be served.

"We're still looking to providing services," she said, emphasizing that only those patients needing to be seen often—once a week—will be permitted to visit the new office. Of the office's 80 or so clients, Grupe said, 15 to 20 are considered once-a-weekers.

Grupe doesn't pretend to have all the answers and neither does John Hathaway, Health and Welfare regional director for eastern Idaho. He encouraged the community to come up with creative solutions.

"Local solutions are better than what someone dreams up in Boise," Hathaway said.

The valley has taken that advice to heart with community members quickly forming the task force. And the group has already assembled a subcommittee of three to build a tool for gauging the valley's needs for mental-health services that can't be met by the part-time Health and Welfare office. Terry Basolo, director of the Blaine County Community Drug Coalition, is a member of this subcommittee and said a survey is being drafted that will be given to providers and associated groups to record their number of patients, demands and the associated costs.

Pfaeffle said the task force must approve this survey before it's dispersed starting June 30. Once the surveys are filled out, they'll be collected by mid-August and the results compiled by mid-September for review.

"From there, we can really start looking at appropriate solutions based on those needs," Pfaeffle said.

Basolo suggested this step-by-step process to the task force, having used it at the drug coalition. The process is called the Strategic Prevention Framework—created by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration—and uses five steps in improving community health at the local level. The steps are assessing the needs, attaining the resources to meet those needs, developing a plan to provide service, implementing the plan and evaluating the efforts.

Pfaeffle said the task force wouldn't reconvene until September to look at the results of the needs-calculating survey. Then will come the challenge of meeting those needs. They're taking it one step at a time.

Trevon Milliard:

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