Members of the local Stepping Up Initiative are moving forward with instrumentation of several mental health subcommittees, implementing criteria learned during the Sequential Intercept Mapping Workshop (SIM) hosted March 22-23 at State Fair Community College.
Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond discussed the success of the workshop with about 26 members Thursday in a conference room at the Pettis County Sheriff’s Office.
Overseeing the continuation of creating a mental health diversion center will be Burrell Behavior Health Director of Clinical Services Dan Lester, of Columbia. Pettis County Associate Circuit Judge, Division 6 Paul Beard will oversee the aspects of mental heath concerning the judicial system while Pettis County Health Center Administrator JoAnn Martin will chair the boundary spanner position or the building of partnerships between agencies.
Sedalia Police Officer Mark Cherry will take the helm of creating a local Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), and Smith-Cotton Junior High School Social Worker Denise Woolery will oversee the creation of a local chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Health (NAMI).
“So far we’ve been kind of a fledgling group, but I think the SIM workshop that we had two weeks ago has helped to solidify us,” Bond noted. “It certainly has given us a set of directions and a set of projects to work on.
“One of the things I want to focus on … is we need to to do some organization,” he added. “We need to do some strategic planning and we need to be able to set our priorities and have some people who are responsible for being able to do that.”
He added that he was thankful for the help of Pettis County Community Partnership Executive Detector Cheri Heeren, who helped organize the SIM workshop, Martin, who has worked toward gaining additional funding sources, and Cherry and the SPD, who are moving forward with the CIT program.
Bond explained that the local Stepping Up Initiative is using an “umbrella” approach versus a “close target population” project.
“Because of that we need to sit down and look at what direction we are going, and get down to brass tacks,” he said.
Bothwell Regional Health Center Mental Health Social Worker Intern Darby Provance said she saw a need for a NAMI chapter in the local area.
Bond added that NAMI was one of the action plans he was working toward, and Woolery and Katy Trail Community Health Center LPN Jill Wuebker said they were already looking into creating a chapter.
“That’s really what I wanted this meeting to do, is to start pairing people up,” Bond added. “There is a need for a NAMI chapter here and that’s one of the target points we need to be working on.”
Bond stated there is a need for expanding the CIT program in the county.
“Yesterday I was at the Missouri CIT Conference … the Missouri CIT Council is trying to expand the CIT programs across the state,” he said. “Pettis County is targeted as one of those places for development.
“We’re kind of in an island,” Bond added. “Most of you know whether it’s through grants or law enforcement we’re right on the edge of (Missouri State Highway Patrol) Troop A, but sometimes we move over to Troop F. Everything we do, we seem to be in a no-man’s land … So we have the opportunity to establish a CIT council (and) we need to establish a CIT Council here for Pettis County … We still need to have a sub-group of the Stepping Up Initiative as a CIT Council.”
The group is also moving forward with a a possible location for a mental health diversion center. They are looking at the now vacant, eight-bed Pettis County Juvenile Office.
Cherry said they presented the proposal to Pettis County Commissioner David Dick, who was ready to “move forward” with the Juvenile Office location. Cherry also spoke with Lester at Burrell Behavioral Health. Lester had recently observed a crisis services facility in Springfield similar to the diversion center Pettis County is wanting to begin.
Lester explained to the group how the center would work, the types of staffing needed and the types of funding that would be available.
“I think there’s a real likelihood that we can make it happen,” he added.
Beard was unable to attend Thursday’s meeting but sent his concerns about the mental health diversion court program to members of the Stepping Up Initiative earlier by email.
He said he discussed the proposal with Judges Robert Koffman and Jeff Mittelhauser and Pettis County Prosecutor Phillip Sawyer, who were in opposition to the plan. Beard presented an alternative proposal stating Sawyer could implement the plan as a “deferred prosecution tool.”
“When he thought it appropriate, he could tell a criminal defendant that if the defendant would successfully complete the Pettis County Mental Health Diversion Program, then (Sawyer) would not file charge against (the defendant) or he would dismiss charges,” Beard wrote. “Also a judge, who thought it appropriate, could make completion of the Pettis County Mental Health Diversion Program a condition of probation.
“Arranging the program in this manner satisfies all concerns: first, we have a way to divert those with mental illnesses from the jail when that is appropriate and second, we do not create a judicial docket that has not been authorized by the legislature.”
Beard also sent each member a 32-page outline for the proposed mental health diversion program. Sawyer, who was in attendance Thursday, agreed with the proposal.
“In fairness to all three judges, I talked to Judge Beard at length about the mental health court,” Sawyer said. “My thoughts are, I fully support all of the goals you and I spoke of, and all of the initiatives that are in place. I don’t know that a mental health court is necessary or even the proper way … if all of these other goals are met, and if you move forward with everything you’ve worked so hard on, the mental health court itself is likely not necessary.
“(Beard’s) response is simply setting up what we would deem or call a mental health court,” he added. “A diversion program is something he and I spoke of at length about. It would essentially accomplish the exact same thing as a mental health court, when everything else is in place.”
Martin, spokesperson for the boundary spanner aspect of the Initiative, talked about looking in depth about Judge Beard’s proposal and also the options for the diversion center and how it would affect her role as facilitator.
“It’s going to change if we have a crisis center, and if we have a place where people can get that immediate intervention, it will change the role of this person from a qualified mental health professional into more of a social work coordinator,” she noted. “We will have to figure out where we are going, before we move forward.”
Attendance of the monthly Stepping Up meetings is increasing and Bond said he is actively looking for an alternative meeting place.
“We need to think about a place that has room for 40 to 50 people,” he said.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.