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Mental Health Services Task Force Working Toward Summer Report on Recommendations

by on March 03, 2020 5:24 PM

The State College/Centre County Task Force on Mental Health Crisis Services has been moving forward with its work under the leadership of a new chair and expects to issue its report and recommendations in July.

Task force chair Patricia Best, the retired State College Area School District superintendent, provided an update about the work to date and what's ahead to State College Borough Council on Monday night.

The State College and Centre County governments, with $50,000 in borough funding, jointly convened the 30-member group in September in the wake of the March 20, 2019 police shooting death of Osaze Osagie, a 29-year-old State College resident who was diagnosed with autism and schizophrenia, and the subsequent community discussions in the county.

"We all know it’s been almost a year since the shooting and this council and this community certainly has made a commitment to work toward solutions and a more equitable approach toward race and mental health," councilman Evan Myers said on Monday. "We need to keep making that progress."

After initial chair Billie Willits died in November, the task force's work was put on pause, but has been moving ahead at a steady pace since Best's appointment in January and is on track to meet the original timeline of a summer report.

"The questions have really centered upon how do we use these crisis systems to serve people most in need at a very vulnerable time in their lives; how do we use the crisis system to support those who entrust us to care for their family and friends when they’re in a time of crisis; and finally how do we support the providers who face challenging responsibilities in a very diverse variety of roles in terms of the system we have put together to care for people in crisis," Best said.

The task force was charged with identifying strengths in the current system for mental health crisis services and recommending enhancements, with a specific focus on six areas:

- Mobile crisis services

- Delegate crisis services

- Involuntary commitment warrant procedures

- Police officers’ role in responding to mental health calls and 302 warrant procedures

- Emergency department procedures

- Post-emergency department services,

"We are employing a great deal of discipline around the charge and what you’ve asked us to do," Best said. "With a topic like this we want to do so much; it’s very easy to go down a lot of different pathways. The task force has said 'let’s tackle this first and if there are more things to do — and there will be — then  we’ll figure those out as we go along.'"

Data collection began in the fall, and the group's first task has been to map crisis services delivery from the first point of contact up to the point at which an individual has been handed off for a treatment plan.

Best said that as the task force has begun to put the map together, it's apparent that there are many pathways for people within the system.

"The good news is we have resources to bring to bear to meet a number of different and varying kinds of needs... [but] we need to work very hard so that those are coordinated, and so that it’s not just what’s in each of those spaces but what’s in the white spaces between them as we move forward," Best said.

A consultant has conducted more than 50 interviews of people who work in or experience the crisis service system. Best said the original idea was for task force members to conduct the interviews they concluded it would be more consistent to have one person conduct all of them instead of 30 people doing one or two interviews each.

Data being gathered from those interviews is descriptive ("who is doing what, how, when and why do they do it"), statistical ("data about usage and provision of services") and perceptual (perceptions of how services are working by those who provide and use them). 

The consultant will provide a report to the task force later in March, which will then be used by the group for its next phase: analysis.

In March and April, the task force will divide into groups of five to seven members — with balanced representation on each — to analyze strengths, gaps in services, improvements to existing services and new opportunities, as well as any barriers that might exist.

That analysis is expected to be completed in April and will provide the raw data for the recommendations, Best said. Before the task force begins drafting its report, Best expects the task force will determine if additional interviews are needed and will offer an opportunity for additional public input.

She said the task force also may hold sessions for members with panels of service providers.

"A very important part of it is also educating ourselves so we can in turn educate the community around these services as we go on," Best said.

The task force aims to provide a report that is thorough, accurate, forthright and actionable, Best said. She expects it will take the end of April through June to write the report, which will then be presented to State College Borough Council, the Centre County Board of Commissioners and the public.

"We want this to be easy reading — not simple reading, not superficial reading, but easy reading," she said. 

Best added that the task force's work won't be the finish, nor is it meant to linger on indefinitely, but it is to provide something decision-makers can act on.

"This task force in itself is running neither a sprint nor a marathon. It is a relay," she said. "It’s incumbent on us to come off the blocks with a strong steady start, to know the course ahead, to establish our pace, to stay in our lane on both straightaways and curves, if we stumble to right ourselves and go on and finally to finish with a strong handoff of the baton to the next team member who will carry it forward to the eventual finish line."

In a similar report to Centre County commissioners on Tuesday, Best said he anticipates the task force's recommendations will be released in July.

Anyone wishing to submit questions to the task force can do so through its page on the borough's Engage State College website.

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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