Commissioner MaryAnn Borgeson from Douglas County, Nebraska became keenly aware of how difficult it is for people to access care for their mental health needs when she volunteered to work with people who came to the county after Hurricane Katrina.
During that time, she spoke with many individuals who were struggling with mental illnesses and could not get the help they needed. Through this experience, she began to understand mental health issues in a new light and to also reevaluate the current system of care at the county and state levels.
As a county commissioner, she began noticing the impact of the current system in another way. Like many counties across the country, the Douglas County Jail has seen an increasing number of people with mental illnesses cycling through the jail in recent years, she said.
“Most will agree that jail is not a place conducive to effective treatment for people with mental illnesses. Mental illness is not something people ask for and I believe that we should provide treatment for all people with mental illnesses in an appropriate setting and with dignity and compassion,” she said.
To improve the system, Douglas County is focusing on providing fuller discharge planning for people with mental illnesses leaving the jail, which the county has found to be the most effective tool for helping lower recidivism and improving other outcomes. Part of the process ensures that preparing a discharge plan for people with mental illnesses starts at the time when a person arrives at the jail, rather than on his or her way out the door. In Douglas County, jail staff performs an assessment of each individual who enters the jail to identify the barriers they may face when they leave. Staff has worked closely with behavioral health care and housing providers, as well as probation officers in the community, to build new processes to ensure that people have somewhere to go when they leave the jail.
“In Douglas County, it’s about more than just reducing recidivism; it’s also about getting people what they need to be successful,” Commissioner Borgeson said.