Centre County puts mental health in spotlight with 'starting point' event
Centre Daily Times - 6/28/2019
Jun. 28--BELLEFONTE -- In what Centre County Commissioner Michael Pipe called a "starting point" to a much larger initiative, county residents gathered Thursday in the Courthouse Annex to hear about the mental health system in the county and state.
After the State College police shooting of Osaze Osagie, an African American man who had a diagnosis of autism and a history of mental illness, residents called for a review of the county's mental health system and its role in the 29-year-old's death. To address community concerns, the Centre County Board of Commissioners hosted a community dialogue and invited residents to ask questions about the mental health system and share their experiences.
More than 150 people attended the conversation, with nearly 50 attendees watching a livestream from a downstairs courtroom. In addition to the commissioners, representatives from Pennsylvania Department of Human Services' Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and the county's mental health office delivered presentations and answered audience questions.
To begin, the Division Western Operations Director Kellie Wayda and Community Program Manager Scott Liddick presented a slideshow, detailing how mental health services are organized at the state level. The Pennsylvania Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services office is responsible with developing, monitoring and mental health programs and services while collaborating with outside agencies and offices in order to ensure responsive medical care. As a conduit, the state office collaborates with Centre County's mental health office, which was represented by Natalie Corman, human services administrator and director the county's mental health office.
Corman explained that while Centre County's office does serve community members through various services, it must fulfill certain requirements in order to receive about $4 million in state funding.
"We have to know about every other individual who wants to come through our doorsteps," Corman said. "We also listen to our community."
There are both voluntary and involuntary care options for individuals who seek help from the office, Corman said.
Explaining that the only involuntary treatment happens after a "302" mental health warrant has been served by law enforcement, Corman said one option for in-patient treatment could occur at Danville State Hospital, in Mountour County.
Danville works with 17 counties and has 161 beds, but of those, just seven are reserved for Centre County residents.
Community attendees voiced concern about the lack of resources and long waiting lists for treatment facilities.
Mina Yindra, of Bellefonte, shared a story about her schizophrenic son who is living in a boarding house. Yindra explained that her son is unable to control his sexual desire, saying he has become violent in his actions. Her son had to wait six months before a bed was available at Danville. She said she is worried her son will harm someone if he is released into the community but said no form of treatment has been successful treatment.
More than 10 community members shared personal stories with the mental health system, saying it is filled with "gaps." Several attendees referenced Osagie and asked what county officials will do in order to make sure the situation does not repeat itself.
Anya Lazero, a State College resident, recommended better transition facilities to make sure those being treated for mental illness are able to adjust once released.
Others said medical staff needs to be better equipped and trained to handle crisis. Another woman said Pennsylvania's system must recognize that some individuals are not able to consent to certain types of treatment.
The conversation continued for more than an hour after the scheduled 8:30 p.m. end time.
Questions asked during the conversation were recorded and will be posted to the county's website with answers, Pipe said. It's the start of an initiative aimed at creating change, he said.
"If we aren't able to talk, we're not going to get anywhere," Pipe said.
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