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Mental health issues remain overlooked in most cities around the nation, but San Antonio isn’t one of them, at least not anymore.

In the past, the only choices to apprehend someone with a mental condition who was posing a danger to themselves or others was to take them to a hospital emergency room or jail. In Bexar County the jail had become so overcrowded with people with serious mental illnesses, that the state of Texas was getting ready to levy fines.

To deal with the problem, San Antonio and Bexar County created a mental health program considered to be a model for the rest of the nation. Today, the jails aren’t full, and the city and county have saved $50 million over the past five years since its establishment.

The program focuses on diverting people with serious mental illness out of jail and into treatment instead.

Leon Evans, the director of Bexar County’s Center for Health Care Services (CHCS), was tired of being a part of a culture that focuses more on punishment than treatment. “Shouldn’t the number of arrests that we prevent be the goal? Shouldn’t we be more concerned about connecting the population to the types of health services we know they need?,” asked Evans.

Thanks to Evans, that culture is finally evolving.

In San Antonio, all officers are now required to take a 40-hour course on Crisis Intervention Training, to learn how to handle mental health crises. Even with strong programs, though, there is only so much that training can do.

The next hurdle was figuring out what to do with the patients that need treatment. CHCS came up with a guide of sorts to determine what to do with those apprehended. People who commit a felony still go to jail, regardless of their mental status. And those who need extensive medical care are taken to the hospital. But for other patients, there is now another option: the Restoration Center, a separate facility with an array of mental and physical health services.

With the help of the Bexar County Judge, Evans worked to get the jails, hospitals, courts, police, and mental health department together to talk about the money they were all spending on mental health. The groups realized that they were spending enormous amounts of money individually while offering poor care. In response, they decided that pooling their resources could offer significant savings; and thus the Restoration Center was created.

The Restoration Center offers a 48-hour inpatient psychiatric unit, outpatient services for psychiatric and primary care, centers for drug or alcohol detox, a 90-day recovery program for substance abuse, housing for people with mental illnesses, and even job training. More than 18,000 people pass through the center each year, proving its success.

Texas cities small and large are recognizing the need for mental health treatment and diversion and are now following suit.

Source: NPR & Texas Tribune

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