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Editorial: Another welcome step forward to improve mental health care in East Texas

So far as we know, when an emergency occurs that requires a law enforcement officer, there’s never been a significant delay in dispatching one to the scene. A newspaper is a fulcrum for complaints, and that one has not come to our attention lately.

But officers do so much more than simply respond to emergencies. That is, in fact, only a tiny part of the job. Much of the time they are out on the streets patrolling, investigating crimes or simply talking to community members, which is at the heart of community policing.

But it might surprise residents to know how much time officers spend in hospital waiting rooms with someone who’s had a “mental health” episode. That subject must wait for an examination to determine if they should be admitted to a facility for treating their problems — and the officer waits right along with them.

Longview Police Chief Mike Bishop tells us that at least 17 times in a three-month period from May through July, at least one officer was required to do nothing but wait with a patient through such a visit. He estimated the total amount of time spent to be 300 hours.

Assuming a 40-hour work week, that is almost eight full weeks of time officers spent not doing all those other tasks we expect them to do.

Now, finally, perhaps a solution has been found that will allow officers to get back on the street.

After several years of discussions with officials from at least 16 governmental, health and social agencies, Community Healthcore will open a wellness assessment center between Longview’s two medical centers that will operate 24 hours a day to expedite these mental health diagnoses.

The new center means that those with mental health issues will not have to wait in line behind heart attack victims, or those with gunshot wounds or other medical emergencies, as is now the case.

That’s the best news: Those with problems will get on the treatment track much more quickly.

Secondly, though, the police will be able to return to their jobs in the field to take care of true crime problems.

This is not an outcome most residents will see, but crimes that might have been committed before will be prevented, simply because a passing patrol car is on the street instead of sitting in a hospital parking lot. Or, someone making a non-emergency call will be able to see an officer in less time than might have been the case.

This was not simple, or inexpensive. The Episcopal Health Foundation of Houston gave a grant of $850,000 to get the center open, but considerable contributions have been made by Gregg County, the Christus Foundation, Longview Regional Medical Center and Christus Good Shepherd Medical Center-Longview and the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

This is not the full or final answer to our region’s problems with mental health services, but it is another leap forward, and we have had several of those in just the past few months.

There is a real dedication from our government leaders to see we improve the situation as much as possible.

Through cooperation, we are heading in the right direction. Our task now is to make absolutely certain we don’t stop here.

Today's Bible verse

“The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”

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