Stakeholders and lawmakers consider long-term solutions for mental-health crisis support
Wyoming legislators recently punted on fixes to the state's system for an involuntary treatment called Title 25. That system allows police or mental health officials to detain someone they consider to be a danger to themselves or others, and make them undergo psychiatric treatment. For years the system has been plagued by ballooning costs, the lack of available treatment, and the proper facilities.
An effort to find some fixes to the current system took place over the last few months, so there was some frustration in December when the latest attempt to fix Title 25 was tabled by the legislature's Joint Judiciary Committee. Green River Sen. John Kolb said tweaks to the law are meaningless. He told the committee that the key issue is a lack of treatment options.
"Top of the list once again is facilities. If we don't have any place for these folks to go what do we do besides cost-shifting, besides all these other issues. And I think until the state or us, as legislators, solve the issue with facilities and a place for these folks to go, we're going to spin our wheels," said Kolb.
Wyoming has the State Hospital in Evanston, the Wyoming Behavioral Institute in Casper, and a couple of other facilities that can provide next-level treatment, but those beds get filled quickly and they require expensive transportation and move the individual away from their support system. So, the ultimate goal is to handle things locally.
Sheridan County Sheriff Allen Thompson said officers there have gotten a lot of training on how to identify and handle Title 25 patients on the front end. He said it begins by identifying them.
"Then we take them to our hospital. And that's where they move on in that care. As far as the jail goes, we partner with Northern Wyoming Mental Health to come in and evaluate people within the facility, or transport them to the hospital, as needed," said Thompson.
But he knows that Sheridan is lucky and that local treatment is not everywhere, especially in rural areas. Clint Beaver is a prosecutor in Sheridan who's been working with legislators to find a fix. But he said it's hard.
"It's not an unfair characterization to say that every conversation quickly turns to the issue of money," said Beaver.
Local treatment costs can be a challenge and transporting individuals across the state for more extensive treatment is also a huge expense. Some would like money to be used to establish more regional facilities across the state.
Andi Summerville with the Wyoming Association of Mental Health and Substances Abuse Centers is pushing for the governor and legislature to support using American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) money to help.
"In terms of using ARPA dollars to put some more facilities on the ground," said Summerville.
And while that might be a good idea, facilities are only part of the solution. Wyoming has struggled to find health care providers of any sort in the state and mental health providers are no exception. One roadblock that keeps coming up is that the judiciary committee can only do so much by themselves. While they can tweak laws, building facilities and working to recruit mental health professionals is out of their control.
That's why Beaver likes a suggestion brought up in the most recent committee meeting that involves creating a task force.
"They would call it a select committee, but include folks from the health and labor committee, from the judiciary committee, from appropriations, and try to have a comprehensive look, so that you don't get to the boundary of a committee's jurisdiction and just sort of hit that wall and the discussion crumbles at that point," he said.
Beaver said he's hopeful that if they could get all of those people and some stakeholders together, they may finally reach a solution to this ongoing issue.