THE BUZZ 2: Support Sieve

By on November 29, 2016

While the state slashes funding, mental health services are more in demand than ever in Teton County.

Historically, state funding has made up almost 40 percent of overall funding for human services in Teton County. This year organizations lost approximately $750K in state funding. (Photo: Human Service Council)

Historically, state funding has made up almost 40 percent of overall funding for human services in Teton County. This year organizations lost approximately $750K in state funding. (Photo: Human Service Council)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – How to look ahead when forced to cut back? That’s the question county mental health service organizations are asking in the face of continued state budget cuts.

“There is a significant risk of losing these services,” said Sarah Cavallaro, Teton Youth and Family Services operations director.

This year alone, Teton County’s 10 core human service organizations lost a collective total of $750,000, according to Cavallaro.

Teton County has a strong base of human service outfits that address myriad problems, from homelessness and senior issues to addiction, mental health, literacy, domestic violence, education, immigration and more. They rely on a broad base of financial support, including significant funding from the state. However, the state has begun slashing funds as it tries to balance its own budget.

And more state budget cuts are looming.

The core group of 10 comprise the Human Service Council and include the Children’s Learning Center, CLIMB Wyoming, Community Entry Services, Curran Seeley, Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center, One22, the Senior Center, Teton Literacy Center, and Teton Youth and Family Services.

“When we lose one of these services it impacts us all,” Cavallaro said. “If we all disappeared, you would see more hospitalizations, more jail time, more deaths.”

Cavallaro explained that Wyoming and Teton County operate differently than many places. Rather than the state or county creating departments to provide human services, these services are provided by nonprofits in Teton County.

“We provide these services with a unique public-private partnership where the government provides partial funding and the citizens’ support this model by providing private donations,” Cavallaro said. “This method provides exemplary services at a fraction of the cost to taxpayers.”

The council has begun sounding the alarm about the dire financial forecast they face. Representatives from the council appeared before the board of county commissioners November 14 to provide information and make their case for more robust representation.

“It was a preliminary meeting,” Cavallaro said. “We will be back with a funding request at the first of the year.”

At the meeting with commissioners, the council presented a slideshow documenting the disparity in funding and increasing demand for services. They asked for more representation at county meetings, the opportunity to provide monthly updates, and advocacy at the state level.

Commissioner Smokey Rhea said the presentation was an eye-opener. “It showed as a group what those budget cuts are going to mean to our community,” Rhea said. “It certainly resonated with us as a board since our obligation to the community is health and safety.”

The board now recognizes how the dots are connected between human services and other county-related costs, County Commissioner Mark Newcomb said. “If state cuts go too far, as a county we may end up with higher costs. For example, if we can’t maintain a viable sliding scale for mental health support, we may end up with a higher rate of incarceration or utilization of emergency medical services.” Both of which, he noted, cost more than providing sliding scale counseling.

Both Rhea and Newcomb said they will be examining ways to help fund the county’s basic needs.

Meanwhile an initiative is underway to assess the county’s mental health delivery systems and identify what is working well and where improvement is needed. Spearheaded by the St. John’s Hospital Foundation, and funded by an anonymous donor, a coalition of partners is looking specifically at mental health. The foundation is currently conducting interviews with key stakeholders and the public to gather information and opinions.

“It’s an opportunity to talk with one another about our community’s core mental health issues,” said John Goettler, director of St. John’s Hospital Foundation. “In Jackson we’ve got some mountain town issues,” he continued. “We don’t have as much family support as we might in other places. There are issues with isolation, long winters, depression and suicide.”

Goettler said St. John’s Hospital is equipped to address a crisis. But it’s what happens on the other side of the crisis that’s a major concern. An increasing number of people need more than simple outpatient counseling, but do not require total hospitalization.

Deidre Ashley is the executive director of the Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center. She calls it “crisis stabilization.” This involves a variety of services for people who are getting back on their feet after a mental health crisis.

“Needs in Jackson are changing,” she said. “What I’m seeing is more people who are at that level—they need more than just outpatient care but they don’t need true psychiatric inpatient care.”

That appears to be an arena not fully served by the mental health service providers in town. But it’s difficult to get out ahead of an issue when you’re always in survival mode. “Demand is going up but funding is not following it,” Ashey said. “We should be trying to get ahead of it, but instead it’s causing us to be reactive.”

Ashley said her organization suffered a 12 percent cut in state funding, totaling more than $100,000 this year.

“We’ve been attempting to talk to the state about our changing needs and changing community,” she said. “We serve an increasing commuter community as well as tourists.”

Where the money will come from remains to be seen. Cavallaro said the Human Service Council will be asking for additional monies from the county, town, and private donors. She hopes with more awareness perhaps more money will flow.

According to Goettler, funding is one of the issues the foundation’s initiative will look at also. First they will complete their survey of professionals and interested parties, then aggregate those results to help paint a clear picture of what’s working and what needs work.

Goettler pointed to strong support from the hospital for this foundation’s initiative.

“Our new CEO, Dr. Paul Beaupré, is of the opinion that we should get around the stigma of mental health issues, and see if we can get Teton County to a place where we have a more well functioning system,” he said.

Meanwhile, Cavallaro noted that the demand for services continues to spike.

“We’ve had a 23 percent increase in the number of people we have served in the past two years,” she said. “We need a more collaborative solution. Our community services need to get to the same place as dogs, cats and pathways. It’s not always a beautiful thing to talk about, but it will affect everyone if these services go away.” PJH

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About Meg Daly

Meg Daly is a freelance writer and arts instigator. She grew up in Jackson in the 1970s and 80s, when there were fewer fences, but less culture. Follow Meg on Twitter @MegDaly1

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