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County judges, other officials begin tackling mental health service

By Glenn Evans
March 21, 2012 at 10 p.m.

KILGORE - County judges and their representatives began a long-term effort Wednesday toward improving a 14-county regional approach to helping people with mental illness.

"This is going to be grass roots-up rather than Washington-down," East Texas Council of Governments Director David Cleveland told about 30 members of the East Texas Mental Health Team.

The panel was formed out of an April roundtable at which participants, largely county judges in ETCOG's 14-county service area, learned each county had its own protocols in dealing with mentally ill people.

"There's 14 different counties and 14 different ways of doing things," Cleveland said Wednesday at the meeting at the Comfort Suites Hotel in Kilgore. "That not only wastes time, it also wastes a lot of money. If we can come up with a process, a common intake system, that will eliminate a lot of (waste and duplication)."

Northeast Texans with mental illness seek treatment at a handful of major providers, such as Longview-based Community HealthCore or, to the south and west, the Andrews Center network. The criminal justice system also sends people to state facilities for observation and, in some cases, long-term treatment.

In addition to devising a simplified, unified intake system, the mental health team hopes to encourage establishment of a regional mental health treatment facility.

"Judge (Bill) Stoudt would call this, 'the elephant in the room,' " Cleveland said of that long-range goal.

He credited Stoudt, the Gregg County judge, with leading the effort a year ago that brought the regional approach to the mental health service picture.

Joe Gonzalez, a corporate facilitator who guided the meeting, said the group plans to meet three more times to work toward writing specific goals and programs to meet those.

"Today is just information-sharing - (identifying) the problem," he said.



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