County to use grant to fund mental health worker position

The Hays County Sheriff’s office is looking for a social worker who will respond to mental health crisis calls and follow up with patients post hospitalization.

The social worker’s job is designed to provide some relief to the understaffed mental health authority, who provides mental health services to several counties and to provide quicker assistance to individuals in a crisis.

Currently, the mental health authority, Scheib Center and the five mental health deputies respond to crisis calls. However, Scheib is understaffed and handles multiple counties and mental health officers are not on-duty at all times or might be busy handling another situation.

Lt. Steve Cunningham spearheaded the mental health grant valued at $62,304 said the goal of the grant is to hire a full-time social worker to handle crisis situations more efficiently than waiting for professionals.

“Instead of Scheib, they’d have to come out, it might take them several hours. Sometimes no one is available to respond immediately. And there’s times the patrol officers are sitting around for several hours waiting for someone to show up and do an evaluation,” Cunningham said. “A case worker just speeds up the process of trying to assist somebody in getting screened. And maybe if they need inpatient that’ll speed up the process there as well. And if they need outpatient, then they can provide resources to the individual for follow up and treatment.”

The caseworker would be responsible for deciding if the person needs to be hospitalized or if they can de-escalate the situation on the scene. Currently, the Mental Health Unit at the Sheriff’s office has a similar role, but they are needed on patrol, Cunningham said.

An additional duty would be to follow up with people after their hospitalization or after de-escalation. Cunningham said the caseworker will be notified of a person’s release to provide follow up information and help them become a stabilized member of society.

“If they don’t get follow up, then they could become a wrong term called repeat offender. But then they go revert back to a crisis. Again, the hope is that we don’t have to deal with that, to that magnitude. So the follow up visit is to help them continue to the path of either counseling or making sure they’re taking their meds,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham said patrol officers try to follow up with people who experienced mental episodes by knocking on their doors, but the case worker will be a greater resource as an expert on mental health.

The grant approved by the commissioners court in October will provide a full-time, one-year salary for the caseworker. The case worker will only be able to work 40 hours a week and for one year.

Cunningham said hopefully they can get the position filled soon, so they can bring more resources to people dealing with health issues.

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