Lo­cal donors help­ing with jail men­tal health ini­tia­tive

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - REGION - STAFF RE­PORT

A pro­gram un­der de­vel­op­ment to treat rather than jail men­tally ill peo­ple in Hamil­ton County is gath­er­ing lo­cal sup­port but missed out on a big grant, ac­cord­ing to the county sher­iff’s of­fice.

County com­mis­sion­ers will vote next week to ac­cept $120,000 in do­na­tions for the Fre­quent Users Sys­tems En­gage­ment (FUSE) pro­gram un­der de­vel­op­ment by part­ners in­clud­ing the Hamil­ton County Sher­iff’s Of­fice, men­tal health and med­i­cal providers, in­sur­ers and Chat­tanooga’s hous­ing agency.

The do­na­tions in­clude $10,000 from UNUM; $20,000 from the Com­m­mu­nity Foun­da­tion of Greater Chat­tanooga; $25,000 from the Wel­don F. Os­borne Foun­da­tion; $25,000 from CHI Me­mo­rial Hos­pi­tal; and $40,000 from the Maclel­lan Foun­da­tion, com­mis­sion­ers were told at their Wed­nes­day agenda ses­sion.

Bob Scheri, di­rec­tor of mis­sion in­te­gra­tion for CHI Me­mo­rial, told com­mis­sion­ers FUSE could be “trans­for­ma­tive” in the lives of peo­ple with un­treated men­tal ill­ness, who of­ten end up in jails or emer­gency rooms. He was there with Robin Posey of the Com­mu­nity Foun­da­tion, fis­cal agent for the ini­tia­tive.

Es­ti­mates are that as many as 40 per­cent of peo­ple in the Hamil­ton County Jail have un­treated men­tal ill­ness, ad­dic­tion and other prob­lems that keep them cy­cling in and out of the jail, courts and emer­gency rooms.

Get­ting those peo­ple into sup­port­ive hous­ing and pro­vid­ing ser­vices and treat­ment will cost less than lock­ing them up and will re­duce jail pop­u­la­tions, back­ers have said.

“This project re­ally is the best face any of us could put on in terms of pub­lic and pri­vate part­ner­ships,” Scheri said.

G.A. Ben­nett, chief of staff for Sher­iff Jim Ham­mond, said that al­though the part­ners hope to de­but a pi­lot pro­gram in 2019, the loss of the fed­eral Sub­stance Abuse and Men­tal Health Ser­vices Ad­min­is­tra­tion grant has slowed the pace of progress.

The five-year, $3.3 mil­lion grant would have funded men­tal health and med­i­cal providers in what’s called an as­sertive com­mu­nity treat­ment team.

Not land­ing the grant means “we will have to start off a lit­tle bit later and a lit­tle bit smaller,” Ben­nett said. But he said the sub­stance abuse ad­min­is­tra­tion gave the county credit for broad col­lab­o­ra­tion to­ward the ini­tia­tive and urged it to ap­ply again this year.

“We feel quite cer­tain that fund­ing will come in, part­ners will con­tinue to de­velop through­out the area and in the state and this will even­tu­ally come for­ward,” he said.

Com­mis­sion­ers also will vote Wed­nes­day whether to give com­mu­ni­ca­tions firm Bowen & Bowen, LLC, a one-year con­tract to man­age com­mu­ni­ca­tions and fundrais­ing for the ini­tia­tive.

Ben­nett told com­mis­sion­ers the com­pany was ini­tially hired on a tem­po­rary ba­sis to de­velop a fundrais­ing plan and has raised $150,000 to date. He said the firm’s $1,500 monthly fee will be paid from money al­ready raised rather than tax­payer funds.

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