The Engage & Excel 2019 Conference, hosted by the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute in September 2019, brought together the state's top minds in mental health policy, philanthropy, and practice to share ideas on emerging issues. The conference highlighted the fact that 81% of Texas' 254 counties are wholly or partly designated as Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas according to the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute. The most drastic shortages are in non-metropolitan areas, including East Texas, West Texas, the Panhandle, the Rio Grande Valley, and El Paso.
Conference attendees discussed the future of behavioral health care and the need to better integrate and collaborate with law enforcement to maximize available resources. One of the challenges highlighted was the ability to share health information, and specifically, the importance of sharing behavioral health data with law enforcement to achieve better outcomes. Law enforcement includes designated persons or personnel of a correctional facility in which a person is detained if the disclosure is for the sole purpose of providing treatment and health care to the person in custody. Texas law allows sharing health information if there is a risk of imminent physical or emotional harm. Federal law, under HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996), allows sharing health information to prevent or lessen a serious and imminent threat to health or safety to the public, or to an individual under the "care and control" of the officer. In order to maximize available resources, better integration and collaboration will be critical.
A great tool to utilize for collaboration on behavioral and mental health resources is through the newly released Texas Mental Health Resource Guide. Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Barbara Hervey announced the release of the guide during the roundtable discussion at the Court Structure, Creating More Effective and Efficient Courts breakout session at the 2019 TAC Legislative Conference. This guide will aid judges from all levels of the courts and law enforcement in learning which mental health resources are available in their county. The guide indicates it, "...is by no means a complete compilation of all the resources available in Texas. We have included all types of programs and facilities from governmental agencies and organizations to private practitioners and all those in between in a combined effort to assist those in need."
An upcoming conference that continues the discussion of how behavioral health challenges can impact a county is the Judicial Commission on Mental Health’s annual Judicial Summit on Mental Health on Nov. 18-19 in San Marcos, TX. The conference will include sessions on competency restoration, legislative updates, lived experience, specialty courts data, and multiple sessions on best practices by county and population (urban and rural). Additional information and registration can be found on their website.
For questions about this article, contact TAC Legislative Manager Kelsey Bernstein at 800-456-5974.