Systemic racism and its
pursuant assault upon African Americans’ mental health never
takes a day, hour, or minute off. Not ever.
Black clients continue to
suffer mental health-related tragedy after tragedy. Their
families constantly live with the burden of attempting to
care for them while distressingly waiting to see what the
next crisis will bring.
Kudos to Scott Sylak,
executive director for the Mental Health and Recovery
Services Board (MHRSB), for initiating a thoughtful,
competent process to seek effective and radical change in
the system. The final results could be a game-changer for
mental health crisis system reform.
The MHRSB is the agency
responsible for providing mental health and substance abuse
services to Lucas County taxpayers. In truth, the system is
complicated and includes many players working on the
frontlines of the battle, including law enforcement,
hospital emergency rooms, psychiatric hospitals,
stabilization units, and the mental health system.
Thus, it made sense for
the MHRSB to engage this community of caregivers, along with
individuals and families with lived experiences, to ask the
question: Is our crisis response system providing the best
possible service to the people, or could it be improved?
The answer to that
question led the group to develop a new model for crisis
response, which conforms with best practices from around the
United States. A Request for Proposals (RFP) was issued
seeking a provider who can implement that system.
Three applications were
received and will be reviewed by a committee of people who
work in the crisis care system and mental health clients,
peers, and family members. The MHRSB expects to have a new
vendor selected by mid-2021.
There are three notable
elements of this story.
First, the process
undertaken by the MHRSB reflects the “importance of the task
at hand.” Almost every hour of every day, someone in our
community experiences a crisis related to their mental
health or a substance abuse disorder. Sadly, this fact is
not news to many. Too many families continue to experience
mental health-related pain and loss.
The MHRSB’s rigorous
process engaged people from throughout the community on this
project. They spent nine months reviewing data, holding
focus groups, conducting interviews, and reviewing best
practices. From those months of work came a recommendation
for a new way of handling crisis response in Lucas County.
Second, the MHRSB engaged
an independent consultant to facilitate the process, develop
the RFP, evaluate the RFP and help guide the previous
system’s transition to a new system. The company, TBD
Solutions of Grand Rapids, Michigan, is a
nationally-recognized expert on projects such as the system
in Lucas County. Their knowledge and skills allowed our
local leaders to understand and adapt the very best thinking
in this field from around the United States.
Third, the new system
includes a crisis care center. Currently, most people who
experience a mental health or substance abuse crisis are
taken to the Lucas County Jail. The jail is not equipped to
care for mental health clients and is a place where they
will be charged with a crime, which goes onto their record.
The new system is built on
the “Solution Center” that was part of the campaign to build
a new jail in 2018. Instead, the new system includes a
“separate facility” where people will be taken if they are
experiencing a crisis. Here, they will receive the help
they need and the criminal justice system would not be
I am excited about the
life-saving possibilities in this radical system of crisis
services reform. This, to me, leads us to the most
A Recovery-Oriented Crisis
As a caregiver and
relative of someone in the mental health system, I have
experienced times in my life when a crisis – though not
welcomed - was the catalyst for change. Indeed, a crisis is
often a “red flag” that tells us that we cannot continue
along the path we are going.
The goal of a crisis care
system is first to abate the crisis. Currently, the only
options for those having a mental health or substance abuse
crisis are jail, hospital, or a quick release. The system
envisioned here, however, takes the next step by using the
time spent in the crisis care center to refer the individual
to appropriate, culturally-competent, peer-assisted,
professional clinical care in the community. The plan
enables the system to accelerate treatment and facilitate
recovery for those experiencing crisis.
The Bottom Line:
Sometimes you have to
either “go big or go home.” The new system is an ambitious
undertaking. It is the most substantial RFP ever issued by
the MHRSB. It is also vitally important to the people in
our community. They were under no mandate to undertake this
challenge. The Board, its staff, and the stakeholders
within the system were motivated to act proactively on this
issue by their compassion and commitment to the people of
Lucas County, mental health clients, and clients’ family
Executive director Scott
Sylak gets it. The MHRSB and its stakeholders did the right
thing by initiating radical mental health reform. The reform
provides the life-saving services that the community
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, D.Min, at