Douglas County officials forming plans for mental health facility

Several details still need to be decided about how to best use the county’s ARPA funds
Douglas County looks into how to tackle mental health
Published: Nov. 21, 2022 at 4:20 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - For years, the Douglas County Commissioners have been discussing how to deal with the lack of mental health care in the county.

Now, with the help of federal funds, that discussion is turning into action, Douglas County plans to spend around $55 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to build a stand-alone facility or one connected to the Douglas County Jail.

But there are still a lot of discussions to be had before any kind of decision will be made.

Discussions about the correlations between mental illness and substance abuse.

“What is the best way to treat them and also be cost-efficient about it? ... Now, we do an awful lot of things... what is our role?”

A lot of discussions over Phase 2 of the mental-health facilities study.

There’s talk of long-term mental-health care — where to build a facility and how much should the county spend. There are members of the committee who believe there is a big misunderstanding of what the county is responsible for.

“When this project started, how do we address what we do? ... And seeing what’s out there,” said Mary Ann Borgeson, chairwoman of the Douglas County Commissioners.

More discussions are needed before decisions are made on how to move forward, and county officials say there are deadlines to spend those federal ARPA dollars.

County officials look into how to improve mental health care

“We have to have it earmarked by 2024, and have to have it spent by 2026. So the part about deciding where we’re going has to be made here very quickly because we have deadlines for construction and all of that.”

Borgeson said she hopes that by the end of the year, the committee will have a good idea about the direction the committee decides to go to best deal with the mental health issue in Douglas County.

Officials told 6 News that at any given point right now, about 38% of inmates in the Douglas County Correctional Center are dealing with mental issues. Workers there get support from the Douglas County Community Mental Health Center.

“The incarcerated folks with mental illness and our community mental health center — they already do well over 50% of our services together. So that’s how the study actually got spearheaded,” Borgeson said.

A separate facility would bring some perceptible improvements, she said.

“There is that stigma attached by combining populations.”

So discussions are taking place about whether to team up with other healthcare organizations to provide mental health care.

“With UNMC, CHI, Methodist — even Creighton to a certain degree — because those discussions and partnerships are going to be important from a sustainability standpoint,” Douglas County Commissioner Mike Friend said.

There was also discussion by some committee members about long-term mental health care.

“Currently, we have zero long-term mental health care beds in our community,” Commissioner Jim Cavanaugh said. “If we would provide a dozen, it would be 12 times more than we currently have. If we would provide 20 more than we currently have...”

Borgeson said the county should focus on what it can do better to provide help for inmates with mental health issues, but also step up service for the overall population.

“We’re saying — and we have been saying since way back to 2015 — is that we should be providing mental health services to those folks outside of the jail that can be served outside of the jail,” she said.

Commissioners are hoping to figure out where the facility will be, how many facilities will be needed, and the overall cost by the end of the year by January 2023 at the latest.