State-initiated improvements to mental health services coming

Come Tuesday, some mental health service improvements recently approved by the state will be rolled out in Southern Nevada.

Others will be introduced in the coming months, state officials said Thursday.

The Nevada Department of Health and Human Services will provide an additional $750,000 each year to the mental health court in Southern Nevada to increase its housing capacity for the mentally ill. In lieu of jail, eligible offenders are sentenced to probation for various nonviolent crimes and enrolled in mental health court, which aims to get defendants the treatment and services they need.

“We should start work on that as soon as July 1 rolls around,” said Ellen Richardson-Adams, deputy administrator of clinical services for the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health.

Last week, Gov. Brian Sandoval ordered immediate action to be taken on five short-term recommendations to improve Nevada’s struggling mental health system. It will cost $3.5 million to implement the recommendations, which will be paid for by tobacco settlement money. The state gets $40 million in tobacco settlement payments annually.

The state’s Interim Finance Committee approved the recommendations June 19.

State officials are working with District Judge Linda Bell, who oversees Clark County mental health court, to identify additional individuals who might benefit from housing services and case management, among other services available through the court, Richardson-Adams said.

The court’s caseload capacity now is 75 people, she said. But only 50 of those individuals receive financial and housing support. The other 25 only receive service coordination because they live with family.

With the additional funding, the program will be able to serve up to 50 more individuals, Richardson-Adams said. Some of the 25 individuals who are currently only receiving service coordination might now qualify for residential support services.

“It is very important for individuals to have those basic needs met, like a place to live,” she said. “Then you are really able to meet the treatment component.”

In regard to the recommendation expanding the number of beds from 36 to 50 at the WestCare community triage center in Las Vegas, state officials hope to make them available “very soon” after July 1, Richardson-Adams said.

The state is earmarking $255,500 to add the beds.

It was unclear Friday whether other funding sources for the expansion, the local jurisdictions and the local hospitals, have committed contributions yet. Officials hope increasing available beds at WestCare will relieve emergency rooms slammed with the mentally ill who are seeking treatment regular hospitals are ill-equipped to provide.

Fourteen hospitals in Southern Nevada currently contribute $622,000 a year toward the costs of the triage center beds, and the hospitals are being asked to contribute an additional $248,000 a year to help support the additional beds, said Bill Welch, president and chief executive officer of the Nevada Hospital Association.

The majority of the participating hospitals support the increase, he said. But a meeting with the involved parties needs to be called “as soon as possible” to reach a resolution.

“We are willing to sit down and try to make this work,” he said. “This is certainly part of the solution that we need to be looking at.”

WestCare isn’t commenting at this point, said Julie LeFils, communications director with the WestCare Foundation.

Meanwhile, the state is hoping to have the mobile outreach safety team out in the community by August. The state will partner with the Metropolitan Police Department and the Clark County Department of Social Services for the effort.

But specific details on how the program will unfold are still being worked out, Richardson-Adams said. The mobile outreach safety team is expected to cost $459,513.

The expansion of the mobile crisis team for children in Southern Nevada and Northern Nevada will have to wait a little longer. Kelly Wooldridge, deputy administrator for the Nevada Division of Child and Family Services said she won’t be able to hire people for the team until Oct. 1.

“But we are going to start recruiting right away,” she said.

The expansion of the program will cost $1.9 million, and the team will consist of 19 staff members in Southern Nevada and eight in Northern Nevada.

The program, which already exists in Southern Nevada, has responded to 152 crisis calls from the University Medical Center and the Clark County School District.

Of those calls, eight children needed inpatient hospitalization, she said.

The state is working with Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center to be able to respond to calls at its emergency department as well. The hope is to eventually have the crisis team be able to respond to all emergency rooms in the valley, Wooldridge said.

The state submitted its request to increase the daily reimbursement rate for inpatient psychiatric beds from $460 to $944 to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on June 16, said Mary Woods, spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services.

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