Governor plans to implement mental health system improvements

Gov. Brian Sandoval on Tuesday afternoon announced he has ordered immediate action to be taken on five recommendations that will improve Nevada’s struggling mental health system in the short-term.

It will cost about $3.5 million to implement the recommendations, which were made in a report that was submitted to Sandoval at the end of May by the Behavioral Health and Wellness Council he formed in December.

The new programs, which would mainly serve Southern Nevada, would be paid for by tobacco settlement funding and will be discussed at the state’s Interim Finance Committee meeting on Thursday.

“I’m just very pleased that our work didn’t fall on deaf ears,” Council Chairman Joel Dvoskin said Tuesday. “This shows that our time was well-spent and the governor cares about these issues.”

The 18-member council appointed by the governor is expected to make a second round of recommendations focusing on long-term fixes to the state’s mental health system by the end of the year.

“I am pleased with the diligence and detail of the initial report and have directed the Department of Health and Human Services to immediately pursue five of its recommendations,” Sandoval said in his announcement.

The short-term fixes include the establishment of a mobile outreach safety team, additional housing, an expansion of triage beds, an increase in the daily psychiatric reimbursement rate and a mobile crisis team for children.

The mobile outreach safety team is expected to cost $459,513. It would partner with local law enforcement to de-escalate mental crises and prevent hospitalization.

The state’s Department of Health and Human Services would provide an additional $750,000 each year to the mental health courts to increase its housing capacity for those suffering from a mental illness. It would provide intensive supported living arrangements.

The Department of Health and Human Services would also provide the state’s share of funding to expand the number of triage beds at the Las Vegas WestCare triage center from 36 to 50. That would cost $255,500.

The state, the hospitals and the local jurisdiction currently each pay one-third of the cost for the WestCare triage center.

The fourth recommendation increases the daily psychiatric reimbursement rate for hospitals with a psychiatric unit from $460 a day to $944 a day. The increase has to ultimately be approved the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which could take months, but would be retroactive to July 1.

The last recommendation is to expand a mobile crisis team for children in Southern Nevada and Northern Nevada at a cost of $1.9 million. The team would consist of 19 staff members in Southern Nevada and eight in Northern Nevada.

Every April, Nevada gets about $40 million in tobacco settlement payment, said Mike Willden, chief of staff for the governor’s office. The state’s Department of Health and Human Services receives about $23 million to $24 million of that funding to support programs related to senior services, tobacco cessation programs and wellness programs, among others.

The department is expected to see savings in fiscal 2014 from various programs, including about $1.5 million from a pharmacy program for seniors, about $600,000 from a bed remodel project at Lake’s Crossing Center in Sparks, about $300,000 from an assisted outpatient treatment program and about $400,000 from a home visiting program.

Officials took those savings to help fund the initiatives chosen by the governor, Willden said.

“We have turned the corner and actually we are doing more than just turning the corner,” he said. This is “huge for the mental health community in Southern Nevada.”

Dvoskin wasn’t surprised that Sandoval took quick action, but he was pleased. The recommendations will help ease crowding at local emergency rooms inundated with patients seeking mental health services.

“It’s getting started in the right direction,” Dvoskin said of Sandoval taking action.

Contact Yesenia Amaro at yamaro@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0440. Find her on Twitter: @YeseniaAmaro.