Washtenaw County Community Mental Health (WCCMH) recently released a report of achievements funded by the county's eight-year Public Safety and Mental Health Preservation Millage, approved by voters in November 2017.
The millage's first complete year of implementation ended in 2019. County-wide expansion of services, new law enforcement training programs, service launches in underserved rural communities, and anti-stigma campaign activities are just some of the highlights of the 2019 Millage Impact Report.
Lisa Gentz, a program administrator for the millage initiative at WCCMH, says the organization's goal was to provide "insurance-agnostic services to any county resident."
Gentz says that when the millage was first approved, early conversations with community stakeholders found that many individuals were at capacity when it came to providing mental health care to people in need. There were also long wait lists and sometimes insurance barriers that made timely help inaccessible for some residents.
"Now anyone can get help just by calling our 24-hour hotline at (734) 544-3050," Gentz says. "Everyone can get quick and early access to treatment and no one has to wait until they're in a crisis to get the help they need."
She adds that between May 1, 2019, and April 30, 2020, 517 county residents "who might have fallen through the cracks" were served by millage funding efforts. Each person received an average of 24 services, such as service navigation assistance, therapy, psychiatric counseling, and nursing support. The median time spent with each client was four hours.
Starting in 2019, an expanded role in crisis response with local law enforcement was made possible with millage funding.
"We have been providing training and co-response to any law enforcement jurisdiction that needs our help. Millage funding allowed us to go a step further and actually place our people on the county's Crisis Negotiation Team," Gentz says.
She explains that the team tends to work with individuals who are in significant crisis. "They may be suicidal and barricaded in their home. It's the kind of scenarios where law enforcement gets involved to help an individual get important mental health services," she says.
Whether an individual is experiencing a severe crisis or just needs direction in navigating the first steps towards addressing a mental health concern, Gentz stresses that help is readily available now more than ever before.
"Our work has been really important in this time of COVID when all of us are feeling additional stressors and disconnected from some of our coping mechanisms," she says. "Thankfully, we can say we've been able to put things in place to help any person anywhere in the county."
Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo courtesy of WCCMH.