Baton Rouge – Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Alan Levine announced today a plan that will provide immediate assistance to the mental health delivery system in New Orleans, as well as begin to address the statewide needs of the mental health system. The announcement was made at the New Orleans Adolescent Hospital.
Levine said that since joining LDH in January, he has met with several stakeholders in the mental health system, including elected officials, police officials, mental health advocates and judges. In these meetings, Levine said the common theme has been the observation there is a sustained problem with access to the mental health system. In New Orleans specifically, there are significant opportunities for improvement in the overall delivery system which, if addressed, would lessen mental health emergencies.
“In my short tenure, the problem with the mental health system has quickly become the dominating issue. It’s not just a problem in New Orleans – although it has manifested itself here in a more visible way. This issue is overwhelming hospitals, law enforcement, community agencies … and most importantly, families who have a loved one who is suffering,” Levine said.
Levine said the system should be designed to work with people so a crisis can be prevented.
“This was the intent of creating human services districts: local control, local involvement and locally driven plans based upon the unique identity of each community. Unfortunately, due to many factors, the Metropolitan Human Services District has not been able to get traction. We must change this, and it must start immediately,” he said.
An Executive Order signed this week by Gov. Jindal authorizes the department to lead an effort to transform the Metropolitan Human Services District. The order directs Levine to assess the operating performance of the district, and to take whatever steps are necessary to provide support for the transformation of the organization.
Given the recent resignation of the Executive Director of the MHSD combined with the number of vacant leadership positions, Levine has decided a transformation team led by an expert manager will be necessary.
Retired U.S. Army Col. James McDonough has been named by Levine to lead a transformation team – including experts from the LDH offices of Addictive Disorders, Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities. The team will provide an assessment of the current operating status of the district. The team will also implement initiatives that address management concerns, and policies and procedures in the areas of finance, contracting, program development and accountability. The team will report to the Board of the Metropolitan Human Services District, and also to Levine.
“Col. McDonough is a man who gets things done,” said Levine. “His work from the White House to drug control, to commanding American troops in combat and to reforming the nation’s third largest prison system proves he is more than capable of helping us with this turnaround. I have tremendous confidence in Col. McDonough, and I know we will see good results.”
Beyond the assistance provided to the district, the plan calls for 11 immediate action items and two proposed pieces of legislation. The components of the immediate action plan include implementing or enhancing:
Assertive Community Treatment Teams
Forensic Community Treatment Team
Supported Independent Living
Child and Adolescent Response Team
Enhanced 211 Telephone Service
Crisis Intervention Team
Mobile Clinical Treatment Teams
Mental Health Staffing at the Parish Prison
Regional Triage and Receiving Centers
LDH is seeking legislative approval this week for almost $2 million to fund several of the initiatives in the current year. In addition, Gov. Jindal’s Executive Budget includes money to continue funding the plan next year, as well as provide funding to expand some of the efforts statewide.
The plan is supported by local mental health care officials who say they are grateful that LDH is stepping in to help. Dr. Donald Erwin, chairman of the Metropolitan Human Services District, said his agency
has a new board which is in the process of re-organizing the services provided.
“The resources that LDH is providing will give us the opportunity to immediately improve the access and scope of services we provide,” said Erwin. “We all understand the huge responsibility the district has to help our people get the services they desperately need. Our district it is relatively new, and some of the proper infrastructure and personnel were not in place even before Katrina. Since Katrina, the mental health needs of our population are even greater, and we are extremely grateful to Secretary Levine, Gov. Jindal and LDH for the help they are providing as we address the mental health crisis in our community.”
Erwin added that his Board is fully committed to providing the best mental health services available, “You can be sure that the board and employees of the district will offer our full cooperation to the LDH team.”
LDH will also introduce legislation during the regular session of the Legislature to better prepare local communities to develop their own behavioral health initiatives that are locally-governed, but better prepared.
Levine added that a second legislative proposal, similar to a law passed in several states, and which originated in New York (Kendra’s law), is also needed. This proposal will give families and mental health experts greater flexibility to help people get mental health services.
Gov. Jindal has added $89.7 million more to this year’s budget, for a grand total of $484.7 million for mental health initiatives. This includes $63.7 million in annualized costs for programs authorized, but not fully implemented, in the 2007 – 2008 fiscal year. Also, $26 million was added for new mental health initiatives to address issues identified in New Orleans. The appropriated budget for mental health in the 2007 -2008 year totaled $395 million.