Are We Taking Mental Health for Granted
in Bexar County?
by
Commissioner Tommy Adkisson
October 3, 2002

When I first was sworn into office on your Commissioner's Court, I was generally aware of the rather pathetic condition of our County's funding of the sometimes-deathly serious issue of mental health.  It is said that one out of four people over the span of their lifetime, will have a mental health condition.  I assume that this means everything from untreated depression to more serious conditions.  It is with this sobering statistic in mind that we must carefully and responsibly address our County's mental health.

I was amazed to see that for a number of years there was a hodge-podge of entities such as Edgewood and San Antonio Independent School Districts, as well as some suburban cities along with San Antonio and Bexar County funding our local mental health care.  In an enlightened act of leadership and courage, your Commissioner's Court and the University Health System stepped up to make sense and decency out of the local funding of our county's major mental health provider known as the Center for Health Care Services.  Even acknowledging the normal everyday challenges, this has had to make a difference in the delivery of mental health care services in our County. 

Interestingly enough, the manner in which our mental health is dealt with here in our County has a critical linkage with our proper management of the Bexar County Jail.  This impinges upon the proper financial management of your County since the Jail can be a major budget-buster.  Estimates are that on any given day, there are 350 seriously mentally ill patients confined.  To address this, your Commissioner's Court has for some time now, had a Jail Population Monitor who scours over the list of inmates for signs of those who do not need to be in jail and who reports to us regularly.

Furthermore, a Jail Diversion Taskforce has been assembled to include mental health judges, the San Antonio Police Chief, the Bexar County Sheriff and others to attend to the issues of the mentally ill as they interface with the justice system at the front end where they are incarcerated. The Center for Health Care Services has funded 5 officers to assess and determine mental health-challenged individuals so as to ensure they are properly classified and dealt with.  Harris County has dealt with the issue of the mentally ill in the justice system by training 25% of their officers to identify mental health conditions so as to more appropriately take certain mentally ill persons directly to a mental health facility instead of to jail.  This avoids the immediate cost of the mentally ill person's upkeep but immediately begins the important task of attention to the person's root problem instead of not treating it or worse yet, compounding the problem.

This article raises several observations critical to the proper performance of my job as your Commissioner, at least one of which is that  "No official,  views an issue the same way as the official who has to cast a vote on the tax rate."  Also "Just because we have always done something a certain way does not mean that we must continue doing it the same way, especially if changing our ways means an improvement."  I will continue to keep you apprised of the progress on our mentally ill, our jail and of course, of our budget.

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