The many partners in the Black Hills Mental Health and Substance Abuse Collaborative began a recent semi-annual meeting that I attended in Rapid City with a collective “woo hoo” for the hard work they’ve undertaken together. And they sure deserve it!
Until my move last month to eastern South Dakota, I had lived in Rapid City for more than nine years and was aware of the staggering statistics around limited access to mental health and substance abuse services for low- and middle-income people, including a very high suicide rate. I knew that any group working on access issues would face staggering statistics.
The more than 40 partners that make up the Collaborative came together in 2008, driven in part by dwindling federal and state resources. The partners resolved to tackle the questions and challenges they encountered when addressing the serious gaps in mental health and substance abuse services in the Black Hills region.
Recognizing the urgency of this tough problem and the diverse organizations who needed to work together to solve it, the John T. Vucurevich Foundation organized and leads the facilitation of this effort. The early financial and staff support from the Vucurevich Foundation made it possible for Collaborative partners to set initial goals and objectives, all the while maintaining an infrastructure that was fluid and could change to meet immediate needs (and that they say will continue to evolve organically as they prioritize future ideas). With these supports in place, the partners took a systems approach (modeled on a similar services coordination effort in Larimer County, Colorado) to their community’s mental health and substance abuse challenges and began to create change.
The Collaborative has been able to accomplish a lot since 2008.
On January 31, 2011, the first client walked through the door of the 24/7 Crisis Care Center, which provides short-term care for people experiencing a mental health crisis and is the first program of its kind in South Dakota. Pennington County estimates that diverting individuals to the Crisis Care Center has saved nearly $500,000 in the first year of operation, much of which was previously spent on involuntary mental health commitments. And dollars is only one way to calculate the savings. With a year’s worth of data, Center staff is also seeing a pattern of positive change in many of the clients they serve.
Pennington County Health and Human Services and other providers implemented community case management as a practice as well as installing software that enables them to improve and streamline access and referral to services through real-time scheduling. In February of this year, the Pennington County Sheriff’s office made “safe beds” available. The Family Advocacy Committee of Black Hills Parents 4 Parents—whose mission is to support families whose children have behavioral health concerns—continues gaining in strength and visibility in the community.
It’s no small feat to reach out and find new solutions to long-standing problems and then work to convince taxpayers and publicly elected boards to execute the sustainable strategies needed for the new solutions. But the Collaborative’s results so far speak volumes about the impact of these new solutions and how hard they’ve worked together to bring them about. So let me hear that “woo-hoo.”
The Bush Foundation provided a grant to support the Collaborative and the Vucurevich Foundation’s leadership in 2009. To learn more about the other accomplishments and activities of Black Hills Mental Health and Substance Abuse Collaborative, please contact Sandy Diegel, executive director at the John T. Vucurevich Foundation.
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