Mental health/addiction: State listens as community speaks out

GEORGETOWN — Members of a concerned, caring community spoke out on mental health and addiction.

The state of Delaware is listening with plans to act.

Georgetown resident Joe Conaway offers his take on addiction during a community forum held Thursday at the Georgetown Public library. Kim Jones takes notes as Mr. Conaway’s wife Joanne tunes in.

The last of four statewide Behavioral Health Consortium forums drew an overflow crowd Feb. 15 at the Georgetown Public Library.

“Governor Carney is extremely committed to making sure that we are about action,” said Lt. Gov. Bethany Gov. Hall-Long. “We are about action and getting things accomplished in both mental health and addiction. The terminology now for mental health and addiction is this word called behavioral health. We also recognize that this is a disease from the cradle to the grave, with substance-exposed infants all the way to family members experiencing mental health with their elderly family members with Alzheimer’s.

The Behavioral Health Consortium was created this past fall to address a big comprehensive approach.

“To get at the problem we’ve got to be at the problem,” Lt. Gov. Hall-Long said. “It starts at the street level. We are not the judge. We are not here to argue. We want results in six months. We want to have a plan of action in five years … 10 years.”

“Again, we are coming at this tonight with the understanding this is the first step in a journey,” said Lt. Gov. Hall-Long. “It is the first night of walking a journey here in Sussex County where we are going to be breaking down those fractured silos. The behavioral health system has not worked all the way. We’ve had serious problems. We’ve had serious issues. We want to help get it right and the only way we are going to do it is with you the community. We need your help. We need your advice.”

“Whatever we have done is not working,” said Georgetown resident Joe Conaway.

That was the over-riding forum consensus.

And so, eight breakout discussions produced a plethora of concerns, criticisms, advice, suggestions and hopes from community members, many of whom have been directly or indirectly impacted by mental health/addiction problems.

“Some of you are here because of the tragic loss that you have experienced, and there are no words,” said Lt. Gov. Hall-Long. “We don’t want someone to have those same experiences, with lost dreams and hopes. For many of you, you’ve taken that pain and have turned that into action.”

One tragic story shared was from a sister about her brother’s current battle with addiction.

Seriously burned in a work incident several years ago, he was prescribed pain pills. That led to much stronger addiction. Upon release after an 18-month jail sentence, he was right back, living on the wrong side of the tracks. Family heartbreak is greatly felt, most notably by his mother.

“One of the problems that we have is while they are incarcerated the inmates can refuse or not take rehabilitation — we can’t mandate them to take certain rehabilitation steps,” said State Rep. Ruth Briggs King, among the state and local officials who attended. “That, I think, is part of the problem. If you don’t want it or you don’t want to admit the problem, you are going to be like a revolving door.”

Rep. Briggs King said there needs to emphasis that some of these programs are required.

“They say that they really won’t rehabilitate if they don’t want to, but maybe if you lead them to the water enough times they will take a drink and see that there is another way to take care of that thirst or whatever that issue might be,” said Rep. Briggs King. “I think we need to look at what we are doing while they are incarcerated and offer different solutions rather than what we are saying now, which is ‘you don’t have to.’”

Georgetown Police Chief R.L. Hughes was a spokesman for one of the discussion groups.

Georgetown Police Chief R.L. Hughes turns the page on his group’s list of responses, concerns and suggestions to addiction issues.

“If you talk about the incarceration in our criminal justice system, here is the phrase I use here, ‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you always got,’” said Chief Hughes. “It’s time to start thinking about different ways. Are they better? Maybe not. But it’s time to start thinking about different ways and we’ll see if they are better.”

AtTAcK Addiction member David Hume, who lost a son to an accidental drug overdose, made reference to the vicious triple-pronged problematic cycle: mental health leads to addiction, which leads to homelessness.

“That needs to be addressed. We must treat all three,” he said. “You can’t only treat two of three.”

Bullet-point ideas from group discussions will be reviewed and funneled into a report.

The goal, Lt. Gov. Hall-long said is to have the people’s report in the hands of state legislators by the end of April.

Lack of access to treatment in downstate in Sussex County has tops among the breakout groups.

On the brighter side, help appears to be on the way with the construction of SUN Behavioral Health’s psychiatric hospital in the College Park business development in Georgetown. It’s a 90-bed hospital with in-patient/out-patient services designed to address the mental health and behavioral health needs and services in downstate Delaware.

Plans were unveiled in 2015 by New Jersey-based SUN Behavioral Health.

Also looming over the horizon is Delmarva Teen Challenge’s Home of Hope, a faith-based women’s campus presently in the works in western Sussex County near Bridgeville. When it opens — possibly by summer once a $300,000 financial goal for one-year’s operations is met — the 90-acre campus will house upward of three dozen women in a recovery program spanning 12 to 15 months. Addiction is Home of Hope’s top priority.

“One of the concerns again is the lack of access to quality health care particularly related to psychiatric or counseling. We have had such a shortfall of that in Sussex County for a very long time,” said Rep. Briggs King. “I think the emphasis is we need more practitioners in the area. State workers have too big of a case load.”

Paulette Rappa, executive director of non-profit The Way Home, shares comments from her group’s discussion at the Feb. 15 community forum on mental health and addiction.

Concerns, comments, suggestions and ideas gleaned from discussion groups include:

  • current system is not set up for success; there is a systematic breakdown in a lot of different areas;
  • insufficient resources, lack of information for parents of an addicted child and the need for additional funding for long-term treatment. “Our group felt addicts need a longer time in treatment and more of a foundation,” said Cheryl Doucette, a community advocate for the Behavioral Health Consortium who lost a nephew to addiction;
  • insurance reform, more peer-to-peer intervention and more public awareness, publicity of programs and services and increased use of social media;
  • more safe housing, wellness centers, after-school programs, more effective treatment in prisons, more focus and support on families and improvement in the “warm handoff” when someone comes out of detox or rehab. “Our providers need to cooperate rather than compete. We should be working together,” said Mr. Hume;
  • address the entire stigma around addiction, better outreach to the Hispanic community;
  • better communication between the public/community with law enforcement in the war on drugs, lack of transportation for addicts in treatment who can be discharged for missing sessions which in turns triggers a revolving door, and intensive mandated treatment. “If judges can mandate individuals to serve a one- or two-year prison sentence then why can’t they mandate the same amount of time in an inpatient residential treatment facility?” said Kim Jones, an intake specialist for Gaudenzia Inc. in Wilmington;
  • smaller group sessions in counseling recovery, and removal of bureaucratic red-tape;
  • more preventative services and programs in schools, starting perhaps at the elementary level, and a more-centralized source for resources.

Additional follow-up meetings will be scheduled in Sussex County, Lt. Gov. Hall-Long pledged.

“Some of your ideas might take a little money and a couple years. Again, the issues I heard were cradle to grave, not just addiction but I heard folks talking about Alzheimer’s to services and treatment. Which is what we wanted,” said Lt. Gov. Hall-Long. “We are going to take this and turn this into actionable items. Somethings we might be able to do in three months without any resources. Some of these options mentioned tonight, we can implement by June and cost no money. This is where the rubber hits the road.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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