Douglas County leaders tour San Antonio mental health facilities
Written by: Elliot Hughes, Lawrence Journal World reporter
SAN ANTONIO — Various leaders from Lawrence and Douglas County toured a nationally respected mental wellness and homeless shelter campus here Thursday as stakeholders continue collecting information on a proposed project to provide better resources to some Douglas County residents who run afoul of the law.
Local government, law enforcement and health care officials, among others, spent more than nine hours learning about The Center for Health Care Services' jail diversion program and surrounding facilities, which are based in San Antonio and serve the rest of Bexar County.
The jail diversion program helps nonviolent individuals with mental illnesses and substance abuse problems receive proper care for their conditions, rather than being jailed. Nationwide, it is regarded as a model program of its kind and has been given a Gold Achievement Award by the American Psychiatric Association, among other accolades.
In response to rising inmate populations and a greater demand to provide mental health care services to inmates, Douglas County is currently studying how to best expand its jail and construct a separate facility to assist those with mental illnesses and substance abuse problems.
The trip was organized by Justice Matters, a group of religious leaders who focus on justice issues.
Nearly 20 officials from the Lawrence area made the trip, including Lawrence vice mayor Jeremy Farmer; police chief Tarik Khatib; municipal court judge Scott Miller; Lawrence Community Shelter CEO Brian Blevins; Lawrence Memorial Hospital CEO Gene Meyer; county commissioners Nancy Thellman and Mike Gaughan; county administrator Craig Weinaug; District Attorney Charles Branson; Capt. Eric Spurling of the Douglas County Sheriff's Department; and several members of Justice Matters. More officials, including Douglas County Sheriff Ken McGovern, are expected to tour the facility in the coming weeks.
They spent most of Thursday at a facility called the Restoration Center. There, law enforcement officers from all over Bexar County can drop off individuals who are either inebriated or having a mental health crisis to rest or receive varying degrees of care.
Leon Evans, the CEO of CHCS, said 2,300 people are diverted there monthly, and anyone is welcome to check themselves in at any time of day. He said the program saves the city and county governments nearly $10 million a year in jailing and emergency room costs.
According to data provided by CHCS, Bexar County had the lowest recidivism rate in Texas in 2012, at 6.6 percent. The statewide average is 17.6 percent.
The Restoration Center is also next door to a separate 37-acre campus, called the Haven for Hope, that houses a homeless shelter and offices for more than 30 agencies — also toured by the Douglas County group.
Officials listened to nearly a dozen presentations, describing how various programs function and how the local health care, judicial and law enforcement institutions all collaborated in the early 2000s to form the jail diversion program.
Weinaug said he was happy that representatives from so many Douglas County institutions were able to make the trip. He said Douglas County would "never" be able to replicate the extensive Bexar County program, but that it could influence upcoming designs and proposals for the Douglas County project.
Officials will wrap things up with another three hours of meetings Friday.