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Supervisor: Washington County has ‘dropped the ball’ with mental health assistance

There seems to be nothing quite like a problem showing up on one’s doorstep to stir up a sense of urgency.

Very recently, that sense of urgency has been to address the lack of access to adequate mental health treatment in Washington County. 

During Monday’s regular meeting of the Washington County Board of Supervisors, a concerned citizen, Carolyn Hayes, appeared to be at her wit’s end sharing about the woes she has experienced as the mother of an individual who suffers from a mental illness. 

“I’m not an expert on it, I don’t know too much about it, and a lot of times we don’t think of things unless it hits home and my question is why in Washington County is it so hard to get help for a person that is mentally ill?” she asked. “I’ve been trying to get help ever since March. My son is 38, but he’s a human.“

Although Hayes’ son is an adult at 38 years old, his condition requires substantially more care and professional attention than she is equipped to provide. 

She indicated that her limited abilities to care for him day-to-day coupled with the lack of a readily available treatment facility in the county resulted in what could have very easily been an arrestable offense. 

Hayes has been unsuccessful in her efforts to find a resolution that didn’t require exhaustive calling around and perpetual referrals that require some form of payment.

“Solutions has been closed for over a year. If you have an emergency situation, like right now, what would you do as a county official?“ she posed.

BOS president Carl McGee said discussions have been ongoing for months about holding a meeting with the principals involved specifically pertaining to the county’s mental health commitments and the level or lack of service to that end.

He deferred to BOS attorney Willie Griffin on where they currently stood.

“I did have conversations sometime ago with Judge (Bennie) Richards and he indicated that we’re going to try to put a meeting together. It has to start with the court system,” said Griffin. “I’ve been hearing some very interesting stuff that I don’t like coming out of Washington County and our commitment system and it has to be addressed.”

He assured Hayes the meeting would happen “ASAP” and extended the opportunity for Hayes to be present for the meeting. 

“I had an experience the other day with a person — not only was he a mental patient, he was a veteran and locked up in the county jail unfortunately. We don’t want those folks locked up in the jail, so, we eventually worked out a system where he could to go to the VA. Not because of the court system, but because of something we worked out within the sheriff’s department.”

Hayes pointed out that not everyone is a veteran and thus, can’t access the resources of the VA.

With District 1 Supervisor Lee Gordon already well acquainted with Hayes and privy to her son’s situation, he could speak to the seriousness of it and the detrimental issue it presents.

“She asked me the same thing she asked you all, and I told her that ‘I don’t know,’ but it’s critical for her and she is worried sick,” Gordon said. “What really set me on this one is the difference in a person and it’s nothing but mental illness because it’s night and day and it’s scary to know that anybody might be dealing with it.”

Gordon described the approach towards addressing mental health in Washington County the past couple of years as “out of sight, out of mind” and reiterated that with a county of its size, something has to be done to address such a great need.

District 2 Supervisor Tommy Benson agreed and extended a “personal apology” to Hayes and others who share her plight for overlooking the issue as he believes the county did.

“We just dropped the ball, but we’re going to pick it up and run with it and do something for mental illness patients,” he added.

Chancery clerk Marilyn Hansell noted that the county has not always had the current problem with its mental health commitments. 

“Years ago, Washington County had a community mental health facility which was very helpful to mental health patients here in the county,” she highlighted. “They (Life Help) in Greenwood are providing services, but they are not providing the services that Delta Community Mental Health provided and when the psych ward was closed at Delta Regional Medical Center, that means we had nowhere to send people.”

Hansell also explained the process by which patients could previously get treatment via the court system when there was a facility designated for the necessary services.

“There is a void in the system and we have been talking for a while about that and what we need to do, so I think that when we have this meeting with Delta Health System and get some idea of when they’re going to open up the psych ward again, that will help people until a decision has been made (by the courts),” she said in addition.

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