Neal Cash: Tucson is a model for expanding mental health services

2014-05-23T00:00:00Z 2014-06-05T18:24:10Z Neal Cash: Tucson is a model for expanding mental health servicesBy Neal Cash Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Southern Arizona can be proud of the comprehensive and accessible behavioral health services right here in Pima County. In many ways we are leading the nation, and communities throughout the country look to Tucson as a model.

Community Partnership of Southern Arizona has led these groundbreaking and successful developments, working alongside community stakeholders, the criminal justice system and elected officials. Those partnerships have fostered some of the most innovative and effective programs to improve the lives of people challenged with mental illness.

At the forefront of our collective success, U.S. Rep. Ron Barber has always been a champion for behavioral health treatment and has stepped up again with the recent introduction of the HR 4574, the Strengthening Mental Health in Our Communities Act of 2014.

Here in Pima County, our crisis safety net, including the Crisis Response Center, mobile crisis teams and the 24-hour crisis phone line, is among the most comprehensive in the country. Anyone can call 622-6000, 24 hours a day, seven days per week to access crisis care.

Barber’s bill continues support for these critical services in our communities, like Crisis Intervention Training and Mental Health First Aid. These programs train teachers, first responders, family members and friends on how to interact with, de-escalate and help someone in a mental health crisis, avoiding unnecessary and costly incarceration or emergency room visits.

The Mental Health First Aid Act was one of the first bills Barber introduced. As a result of this bill, $15 million is going into local communities to fund Mental Health First Aid training now, and HR 4574 would help continue these programs for another five years.

Most recently, CPSA has been working with community-based care providers to establish integrated physical and behavioral health-care services that are now receiving the highest national recognition and accreditations. Barber’s bill would help expand care integration across the country to further enhance quality of life and outcomes for individuals and reduce costs.

For people with more complex needs that can cause resistance to voluntary treatment, CPSA also manages the county’s court-ordered treatment (COT) process, which makes ample use of assisted outpatient treatment.

While voluntary treatment is always preferable, 586 individuals in Pima County are currently on COT and 80 percent of those are classified as persistently or acutely disabled, meaning their treatment is court-ordered for reasons other than or beyond the basic standard of danger to self or others found in many states.

A broader allowance for COT in Arizona has given these individuals a chance at recovery and a chance to live safe, productive lives in the community.

Ron Barber understands the challenges that these families are facing, and he has been working since he came to Congress to fight stigma and make treatment more accessible to those who need it most.

That’s why the National Council for Behavioral Health named Barber its Legislator of Year for mental health in 2013 for his leadership and dedication to move the national discussion on mental health forward.

There is no single answer to addressing mental illness in America. But Barber realizes that to maximize recovery, you have to maximize community-based care and early intervention, and not focus solely on hospitalization or return to the institutionalization of those with mental illness that we fought so hard to end.

Barber always has been on the forefront of these issues and a champion for individuals and families challenged with mental illness. In Congress he has worked with members on both sides of the aisle to improve mental health services for veterans, children and other at-risk populations. For most of his professional life he has been both an administrator of high-quality home and community based services and a strong advocate for families and individuals living with mental illness.

His introduction of HR 4574 is a continuation of his work for which he has been recognized locally and nationally.

Neal Cash is president and chief executive officer of Community Partnership of Southern Arizona (CPSA), the Regional Behavioral Health Authority in Pima County.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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