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County Commissioners eying viable mental health program

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Residents of Lewis County may soon have access to much-anticipated mental health treatment using funds from a 2011 sales tax increase.

Valley View Health Center has proposed a program that would cost $170,000 out of the $900,000 expected to be raised each year from a 0.1% sales tax approved in June of 2011.

Valley View Executive Director Steve Clark said the $170,000 would be matched by a grant from the John A. Hartford Foundation to establish a clinic that focused on offering depression counseling services to all residents.

“I’ve been arguing for this since the beginning of Valley View eight years ago,” said Clark. “It’s not that Valley View needs it, but the county needs it.”

Clark said the program would focus on identifying and addressing mental health problems in patients that could lead to more destructive and violent behavior if left untreated.

“This is a way to start helping people before they get so sick the end up in the hospital or in the jail system,” said Clark, stating repeat offenders currently cycling in and out of jail would be a specific part of the program’s outreach.

County Commissioner Bill Schulte said this behavioral aspect of the program is what appeals to county leaders, stating current mental health treatment available through the jail system is both expensive and ineffective.

“By the time they’ve finished their jail time, they usually are stabilized, so we send them out into the community,” said Shculte of inmates treated for mental illness. “And it usually takes about three weeks until they get back into the system.”

Valley View’s proposal will need to be approved by a resolution from Lewis County Commissioners, and has been the first of its kind to be recommended by the Sales Tax Advisory Board. The board was created specifically to determine how funding from the tax is to be allocated out of $400,000 dedicated to drug treatment, $400,000 for mental health and $90,000 for a contingency fund (based on current revenue estimates).

Valley View would need county approval before Feb. 18 to apply by the grand deadline, and Schulte said he expects the resolution will be before commissioners during their Feb. 14 meeting.

Prior to Valley View’s proposal, funding from the mental health portion of the sales tax was not allocated until late last year, with Reliable Enterprises receiving $65,000 in September and Lewis County Shelter Project receiving $85,000 in November, both of which were able to buy extra bed space with the funding.

Lewis County Health & Social Services Director Danette York said, while these programs treat the homeless population and those leaving the jail system, services proposed by Valley View would treat residents who are not in extreme enough situations to warrant government assistance and cannot afford treatment on their own.

“This middle area—that’s a huge gap,” said York, who has emphasized that taxpayers will save in the long run when those with mental health problems are diagnosed and treated before they become “high utilizers” of the jail system.

Schulte added approval of the funding is not a sure thing, as Valley View’s proposal was “not overwhelmingly” supported by the nine-person Sales Tax Advisory Board and may not receive unanimous approval between himself and Commissioners Lee Grose and Edna Fund.

“We have some issues that need to be worked out,” said Schulte, adding he will personally abstain from voting because his daughter is a grant writer for Valley View, unless he has to break a tie between Grose and Fund.

If both grant funding and county funding are approved, Clark said Valley View is prepared to make space for the new mental health clinic at their office on Kresky Ave. in Chehalis and will offer services on the same sliding payment scale patients are used to.

To learn more about available mental health and drug treatment programs offered through the sales tax, call the County Commissioners office at (360) 740-1120.

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