SHERIDAN — Recent proposed reforms to one of Wyoming’s mental health processes is a step in the right direction, Northern Wyoming Mental Health Executive Director Paul Demple said, but there is still a lot more that needs to be done.
Last week, a Wyoming legislative committee recommended approval to reform a process called Title 25. The program deals with individuals thought to be a danger to themselves or others as a result of a mental illness being involuntarily detained in a mental hospital through a legal process.
Under the current regulations, a law enforcement officer or an examiner (including mental health professionals) can order forced hospitalization.
However, under the proposed bill, courts would be given the ability to order people to undergo outpatient treatment as well.
This would mean fewer people would be committed to state-run mental hospitals and could instead seek services from nearby facilities. The Title 25 program, which Demple said is widely regarded as underfunded with a $5 million budget, currently has a waiting list of more than 40 people seeking entry into a state mental facility.
“We are in favor of it,” Demple said of the proposed reforms. “But if we really want to save dollars and really improve care, you have to invest in crisis stabilization and standardize crisis gatekeeping.”
“The outpatient reforms are a good step, but it’s a very, very small step.” he added.
Demple said even with the outpatient treatment reform, there is still a larger problem that needs to be addressed.
A gap still exists between those who need some services and can be rehabilitated in just a few short days or weeks and those who need extensive treatment at a state psychiatric hospital. Facilities that provide services in the event of crisis could help bridge that gap.
Yet as of now, facilities and services like that are few and far between.
“A good example would be like a six- to eight-bed facility, there would be a large percentage of people who wouldn’t have to undergo hospitalization and could be treated at home and stabilized here,” Demple said.
Crisis gatekeeping, he said, could also help prevent clogging of mental health hospitals.
Counties currently use their own evaluations before admitting patients to a hospital, but Demple argued that standardized evaluations that follow statutes could reduce costs and dramatically decrease hospitalization as well.
The problem he and staff at the Northern Wyoming Mental Health clinic are running into is funding. Demple said there are no dollars in the current budget to help launch programs such as these.
“Right now, we are fighting to keep what we got,” he said.