SHERIDAN — Sheridan County’s programs related to suicide and substance abuse prevention are currently undergoing a transition intended to provide the programs with more funding and more consistent and localized oversight. 

During the Wyoming Legislature’s latest budget session, lawmakers allocated $8 million to be distributed among counties in order to create local councils to oversee suicide and substance abuse prevention; $2 million of those funds were earmarked for suicide prevention, restoring funding that had been cut in the previous two-year budget.

As a result, the state did not renew its contract with the Prevention Management Organization of Wyoming, which had previously handled prevention efforts around the state.

The new model is intended to provide more local control over prevention efforts, allowing counties to tailor programs to address specific needs.

But the new model will also require a period of adjustment as counties transition away from the prevention models they have used for the last several years.

Sheridan County has received $385,777 from the Wyoming Department of Health for prevention management and hired Ann Perkins as the county’s community prevention manager, the position that will handle the distribution of that funding, in July.

“What bringing the financial resources to the county does is allow us to be specific about what Sheridan County needs,” Perkins said. “What are our greatest challenges and what are our greatest resources and how can we use those?”

Since coming on board, Perkins has been getting oriented to how prevention programs have functioned in the county previously and how people would like to see them improved going forward. Part of that orientation has been connecting with local prevention coalitions and discussing how the new model can build on existing efforts.

“I don’t want to re-invent the wheel with anything,” Perkins said. “I want to use what is already working out there.”

Cal Furnish, who is a longtime board member of both the local suicide prevention coalition and the substance abuse coalition, said he has been working with Perkins since she was hired and is optimistic about how the transition to the new prevention model is progressing.

“It comes down to the people, and right now I’m feeling positive about that; I think Ann has a great attitude and approach,” Furnish said.

The new model also puts WDH in charge of prevention management in the state, which Furnish said will be a positive change, particularly when it comes to framing prevention-related issues.

“I think a health focus is really productive,” Furnish said. “…In as far as people being able to hear the message and dealing with the problem of stigma, [specifically when] you’re talking about suicide. The health focus destigmatizes the issue and makes it easier to have good conversations about it.”

Furnish also said because local prevention coalitions are staffed by volunteers, having a permanent coordinating body will help organize and focus prevention efforts. He noted, however, that the challenge will be finding a way to find a balance between having a stable governing body and providing communities with enough flexibility to develop programs suited to their needs. It’s early, but he said so far the new model seems to be striking that balance.

“My sense is, everyone in the mix now has that same focus, is looking for that same balance,” Furnish said.