News Article Details

Funding supports mental health guardianship, drug courts

Star Beacon - 7/19/2018

July 19--Ashtabula County'sProbate Court and Mental Health and Recovery Services Board have partnered with Catholic Charities of Ashtabula County to establish a new guardianship program for elderly residents with mental illnesses.

Catholic Charities has maintained a guardianship program for county residents over the age of 60 who are "frail" or indigent for about 20 years, but this is the first guardianship program in the county focused on residents with behavioral health issues, according to a release from the court.

The guardianship program will be available for county residents under the age of 60 who have a severe and persistent mental illness.

The state categorizes that as someone diagnosed with a mental illness like schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder, or someone who is at risk of hospitalization or has previously been hospitalized for mental illness, said Miriam Walton, executive director of the recovery board, which is putting forth about $50,000 toward the program.

"We're just trying to give those folks that don't have that family or someone in their lives to fill that role -- give them someone who can act as a guardian ... someone else in their lives to help them make good decisions," she said. "It's a need our agencies have been expressing for a while."

Though the Probate Court will run the program, it's being developed by Catholic Charities. The nonprofit expects to advertise for a dedicated case worker "in the coming weeks," for the program's debut in September. That case worker will meet regularly with clients under guardianship to ensure they can access the support programs and advocacy they need, according to the release.

The recovery board already maintains a payeeship program to help oversee finances for residents struggling with mental health issues, Walton said.

By 2030, nearly

one-third of Ashtabula County's population will be aged 60 or older, according to projections presented in 2015 by researchers at Miami University in Oxford. Andrew

Misiak, administrator of the county Juvenile and Probate courts,

said Wednesday

court officials attempted a mental health guardianship pilot program two years ago, but "couldn't get it off the ground," adding there was a lack of available funding for that type of program.

"It was vital, really, just with that population -- it's booming," Misiak said. "It's growing at a very fast rate and we need to be prepared for that. Hopefully this takes off. I think it will. I think we'll be able to find some funding.

"Not having a program, it's hard to get funded if you're not already doing something," he said. "We'll collect our data and show our data. ... Showing positive outcomes, we're more likely to get it full-time and reach a greater population."

According to a separate release from the court, the recovery board is also providing an additional about $200,000 in state addiction treatment grant funding toward treatment and recovery support services for those working their way through one of the county's three certified "drug court" specialized dockets.

Those include the county Common Pleas Drug Court for non-violent, low-level drug offenders, overseen by Judge Gary Yost; the Juvenile division's Family Drug Court, which serves county families who have either lost or are in danger of losing custody of their children due to drug abuse; and the most recently certified Ashtabula Municipal Recovery Court, overseen by Judge Laura DiGiacomo.

Eligible individuals must also be eligible for medication assisted treatment for opioid use disorder or alcohol use disorder, according to a separate release from the court.

The recovery board is also providing an additional $35,000 to fund a part-time Family Drug Court coordinator which will allow that court to take on additional cases, Walton said. Misiak said that coordinator is currently a youth drug and alcohol treatment specialist for the court who expressed an interest in doing more with Family Drug Court.

That employee's annual salary will be about $45,000,

Misiak said. Their time will be split between youth work, paid through an Ohio Department of Youth Services grant, and the Family Drug Court. Previously, Misiak was coordinating the Family Drug Court's 15 cases, he said.

The additional

funding is also marked to implement a new assessment system in the Family Drug Court, which will "measure family functioning," help coordinators

better identify new Family Drug Court candidates and "highlight those families in need of step-down services," according to the release.

"The importance of starting implementing these programs now is so when there are grant opportunities available from either the state or the federal government, we'll be more in line for what they want," he said. "Getting that assessment piece up and running -- that's what most federal grants are looking at."

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(c)2018 the Star Beacon (Ashtabula, Ohio)

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