By CLINT FOSTER
PALO PINTO – The recent shooting at the Washington Navy Yard that killed 12 people is just the latest in a long line of tragedies that seem to be casting a dark shadow over the United States. But lost in all of the debate and conversation about guns and their legality is perhaps the most important factor in all of these incidents: the mental health and need for treatment of the people who pulled the trigger and for those who haven’t yet.
According to various news outlets, Aaron Alexis – the shooter at the Navy Yard –twice visited the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to seek treatment for insomnia, but never got care from a mental health specialist.
Officials in Palo Pinto County aim to be part of the solution to this problem and seemingly want to make sure that anyone suffering from mental illness receives the full and proper help they need.
Pecan Valley Centers for Behavioral and Developmental Health Care Executive Director Coke Beatty stood before the county commissioners, during their regularly scheduled meeting Monday morning, to provide an update on his institution’s new improvements and additions and present the
effects of the 1115 Transformation Waiver Projects.
The mental health institution is in the process of an access-redesign project, Beatty said, in hopes of improving the ability of patients to see a doctor, get medication or see a case worker.
The purpose – so patients can “get engaged in the mental health system so they can get help quicker,” Beatty said. He added his facility went through a “self-imposed redesign process” about a year ago and went from a 45-day wait to a 25-day wait to see a doctor for non-emergency purposes.
In addition to their location in Fort Wolters, he said Pecan Valley is leasing an office space near Palo Pinto General Hospital that will serve as an outpatient clinic for those suffering from mental illness. Beatty said the building is finished remodeling and they are essentially only waiting for a router box before they open their doors. The clinic will house a full-time nurse, full-time specialized practice nurse, case worker and include labs and a mobile crisis team.
It will also allow counselors and other medical staff to have a place near the hospital, where people can walk in and have a place to go to during the day.
“The goal here is same-day access,” Beatty said.
Beatty explained to those present at commissioners court, when someone calls for mental health, statistically, each day that passes without the individual seeing a doctor the likelihood dramatically increases that the person won’t continue to seek help.
He said he is excited about the prospect of having an additional facility that will allow them to serve not only those with Medicaid, Medicare or insurance, but also the “working poor,” who do not qualify for Medicare or Medicaid and can take advantage of some free services.
Pecan Valley has been drastically under funded the last two years, serving an average of 2,200 people a month on a budget designed for 1,335 individuals monthly. This has also force Pecan Valley to put around 86 adults on a wait list for care in the region, Beatty said. But he noted the state is finally starting to up their funding.
“[The reason we were over-serving] is not because we wanted to, but because of the need and the way the rules and regulations are written by the Department of State Health Services and Medicaid,” he said. “If some one [needs services] and has medicaid and meets our priority population – which we have a target population definition of who we can serve – then we have no choice but to admit that person. But [the DSHS] did give us some money to pull people off the waiting list, so it’s a step in the right direction. At least we’re not talking about less money. Typically we’re talking about cuts.
We did get a cut in our crisis fund, but not enough that it’s going to impact transportation contracts or any of the staffing.
“[Texas is] still the worst funded mental health system in the United States. It’s kind of like the school district – we’re all in the same boat. Everybody wants to live in Texas and everybody moves to Texas, but the state can’t keep up with the need.”
To close his presentation, Beatty pointed out the importance of mental health treatment by giving statistics of the success rates for many mental health issues as compared to physical illnesses. He said of people who seek outpatient treatment, 80 percent get better from bipolar disorder, 70 percent get better from major depressive disorders and 60 percent get well from schizophrenia. Conversely, 70-80 percent of people who seek treatment for asthma or diabetes get well, 60-70 percent from cardiovascular disease and only 41-52 percent from heart disease.
“Outpatient treatment works,” Beatty said. “It’s cheaper than inpatient or going to the emergency room and that’s what we’re here to do.”
In other business, commissioners:
• Approved monthly reports from the Palo Pinto County Auditor, Treasurer, Sheriff, Fire Marshal and for public works and information technology .
• Reappointed Judith Evans for another four-year term as county elections administrator.
• Appointed Judy Morrow as a board member on the Palo Pinto Appraisal District Board of Directors.
• Took action on bridge No. 02-182-AA01-48-002 on Rambling Road under the Bridge Replacement Program in Precinct 2. A member of the Historical Commission asked that the bridge – which was an old Works Progress Administration project with “unique architecture” – be rehabilitated rather than torn down. He also wanted to place a historical marker on the site so that the bridge might be included in a historic tour. However, according to commissioners court, the bridge did not qualify for a rehab program, so commissioners decided to proceed with replacement.
• Opened bids for life, safety and electrical renovations for the courthouse.
• Set a public hearing on Oct. 15 concerning the lease of mineral rights for 4.51 acres described in Volume 590, page 55, in Palo Pinto County records.
• Approved joint resolutions between Palo Pinto County and the Palo Pinto Hospital District, Mineral Wells ISD and Graford ISD for elections, set for Nov. 5.
• Approved payment for flu shots for county employees at $25 each.
• Approved the transfer of fuel contingency funds for line items in the district and county judge’s departments.
• Approved an interlocal agreement between Palo Pinto County and the Palo Pinto County Juvenile Probation Department to jointly employ a juvenile case manager.
• Approved election judges for the 2013-14 election year.
• Approved an amendment to a professional-services agreement with Brinson Benefits.
• Approved business associate agreement with Brinson Benefits.
• Decided to leave the county-wide burn ban off; therefore, citizens can burn leaves and brush, provided they watch the fire until it is completely out.