Ohio Governor Mike DeWine Announces Plan To Seek Additional $22 Million for Mental Health, Addiction Treatment During Stop in St. Clairsville

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine presides over a roundtable discussion with Jayn Devney, executive director of the Belmont County Mental Health and Recovery Board, and other mental health and addiction professionals Tuesday in St. Clairsville. Photo by Joselyn King

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced Tuesday his proposed state budget allocates $22 million more for mental health and addiction treatment services in the state, and he wants providers to have more flexibility in the field to treat those in need.

DeWine made the announcement while meeting with a group of local mental health and addiction professionals Tuesday at the Belmont County Mental Health and Recovery Board office in St. Clairsville. Among those accompanying him was Lori Criss, director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

DeWine asked the group to tell him what issues they face everyday in providing mental health services, and what help they could use from the state.

DeWine is expected to release details of his two-year budget plan for the state on Friday.

“What we announced today is a very significant increase in funding to local boards,” he said following the roundtable discussion. “They will great flexibility in how they can use this money, so this will be an unprecedented increase in funding.

“All wisdom does not reside in Columbus, Ohio. You look at these boards, and they’re out there every single day making a difference — whether it is substance abuse issues, or mental health issues. They are doing a very, very good job, but they could use more money. They can use more help, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Often when a mental health crisis arises within a family, families don’t know where to take the family member, he said.

“One of our emphasis statewide is … on giving support to local boards, so they can serve people in crisis. I’m sure there is nothing more scary than to have someone who is in a crisis — either a mental health or a substance abuse crisis — and you don’t where to go. Trying to plug them into some kind of assessment quickly is very important.”

Experts at the roundtable discussion told DeWine they are seeing significantly more clients with mental health issues in the area than they are substance addictions, and they wondered if mental health issues aren’t taking a back seat to the recent focus on opiate and alcohol addiction.

Treatment of mental health problems early is important, especially for children, they said.

Melissa Powers is regional director of Southeast Health Care Services providing school mental health counselors in Belmont, Monroe and Harrison counties.

“Our counselors are the busiest ever,” she said. “With the opioid problems, parents just aren’t engaged. This might be the only person the child has to talk to.

“We’re experiencing kids coming to school after having seen their mother overdose. They’re walking to school, and they’re standing out in the dark waiting for the bus.”

The counselors are in the schools for the students, and also are going to the homes, Powers said.

“Some kids are coming with behavioral problems, so they say. It’s anxiety problems based on what is going on in their home.” she said.

The experts said transporation to treatment to treatment is a challenge for those with mental health and addiction issues. Many are court sentenced to treatment, but have no vehicle or license to go to treatment centers. In Southeast Ohio, the area is sprawling and public transportation isn’t always available.

They also told DeWine they are having difficulties maintaining the employment of counselors in their agencies. Many counselors are moving on to higher salaries in larger cities, or are taking jobs in other areas.

Jayn Devney, executive director of the Belmont County Mental Health and Recovery Board, discussed what she termed the “diseases of despair” that often lead to mental health and addiction.

Poverty, traumatic events experienced during childhood and an unhealthy lifestyle typically are contributing factor, according to Devney.

“Often people are looking for answers to try and relieve some of that, and drugs and alcohol become and answer,” she said. “Unfortunately, sometimes suicide becomes an answer.”


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