News Article Details

Lucas County's mental health board celebrates 50 years of service

The Blade - 8/5/2018

Aug. 05--Fifty years later, Scott Sylak has ambitious plans for what's next.

Lucas County's Mental Health and Recovery Services Board is celebrating five decades of serving those among the most in need. To mark the anniversary, Mr. Sylak, the board's executive director, reflected on its work so far.

"Our system of care has a really strong tradition of service and maturity of agencies that is kind of unparalleled in many communities. We are blessed with a number of strong operating agencies that today serve 32,000 Lucas County residents," Mr. Sylak said.

The board plans, monitors, and funds behavioral health services for people across the area. It ensures those who are indigent, under-insured, or uninsured still have access, Mr. Sylak said.

Of those seeking treatment, roughly 10,800 are younger than 18 years old. In fiscal year 2018, the board expects to spend about $24.5 million in public funds supporting 67 programs.

The largest funding source, about $17.8 million, comes from local levies. Federal and state pass-through funds as well as federal grants provide an additional few million dollars.

Officials are seeking a renewal levy this November. It would last 10 years at 1 mill. If passed, the owner of a home valued at $100,000 would continue paying $30.22 per year, generating about $7.1 million annually.

Ohio passed a bill in 1967 creating boards responsible for mental health services, and Lucas County's group met the following year.

Initial levy money in 1971 provided early funding for four major agencies. Two later combined to form Unison Health, a third became Harbor Behavioral Health, and the fourth, Zepf Center, continues operating as well.

Mr. Sylak credits the long-standing work of Tom Wernert, who served as executive director from 1972 to 1998, in building an infrastructure.

"And I think what's important about that is that Tom really set the framework for how the board interacts with the community. Everything we do is built upon the quality work that those that went before us did," Mr. Sylak said.

A review of archived Blade articles shows the board was ahead of the curve on many problems society would face.

In 1986, members targeted alcohol and drug use for those with early signs of domestic violence. Officials the next year announced plans of supervised housing and services for those with ongoing mental illness, coinciding with deinstitutionalization and many patients leaving state hospitals.

The following decade was active as well. In 1990, administrators added an emphasis on youth efforts to prevent teen suicide. The mid-1990s adopted managed-care principles, described as the board acting like a contractor with an eye on outside price and performance.

Lucas County's boards of Mental Health and Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services merged in 2006.

In the future, Mr. Sylak said he wishes to build a better system of care for youth, including an acute care unit. He also outlined improving housing availability, implementing a behavioral health solution center as part of criminal justice reform, and growing health equity efforts.

The latter means reaching groups previously limited by barriers like language, location, and beliefs in mental health treatment.

"Whatever that issue might be, we need to do a better job as a board. And we're committed to that as a way of contributing beyond just dollars to making treatment available," Mr. Sylak said.

Funding presently goes toward 27 programs, such as A Renewed Mind and Urban Minority Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Outreach Program.

Services include Rescue Mental Health and Addiction Services, a 24/7 crisis center that aids residents with significant psychiatric disorders toward hospitalization. They also involve cold-weather programs, crisis intervention training, Recovery Helpline appointment assistance, and housing.

About 70 percent of those 32,000 or so seeking care receive solely mental health services. Roughly 15 percent are just addiction services. The remaining 15 percent request both. Most are on an outpatient basis.

Lucas County commissioners during a news conference earlier this year commended the board's 50 years of operations.

Sheriff John Tharp said board members have aided and educated members of his office. They have been instrumental in providing information for a proposed solution center, and the Drug Abuse Response Team.

"For the Lucas County Sheriff's Office, and what we do with the opiate epidemic and the DART unit, they have been very open and been a strong advocate for the DART unit," Sheriff Tharp said.

Contact Ryan Dunn at rdunn@theblade.com, 419-724-6095, or on Twitter @RDunnBlade.

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