By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
As Tom Clemons makes his rounds to public meetings before next week’s election, he talks about the big difference made by a levy that costs voters a small amount.
The 1-mill replacement levy for 10 years for Wood County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services will cost the owner of a home valued at $100,000 about $35 a year.
That money is spent on dealing with growing drug addiction problems and increasing needs for mental health crisis services.
“We save lives,” said Clemons, executive director of Wood County ADAMHS.
The levy funding is needed to keep up with growing needs for services, Clemons said. Some of the biggest issues include dealing with the opiate epidemic, providing more mental health housing, and improving crisis intervention services.
Wood County is expected to hit 30 deaths this year from opioid overdoses. The number of suicides is also on the rise, with the county trending at about 20 this year, Clemons said.
The funding is vital, he said, for programs fighting the opioid crisis, plus an increase in methamphetamine and cocaine abuse. Addiction recovery houses, and the mental health services are all part of the safety net supported by the WCADAMHS levy.
The county used to average six to seven suicide deaths a year.
“That’s too many,” Clemons said.
And then they spiked.
In 2015 there were 17; in 2016 there were 20; in 2017 there was a drop to 11; and this year the county is on pace to hit 25.
In response to the increase in adult suicides, the ADAMHS board recently decided to fund a mobile crisis response that replaced The Link crisis center. The mobile unit responds to crises wherever the person is – at home, work, a store, or a park, Clemons said. It has unlimited capacity for calls, so no one calling in for help will be put on hold, he added.
“Everybody who answers the phone is thoroughly trained in crisis response,” he said of the new hotline.
The ADAMHS board also funded training in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, designed for people who are suicidal, self-harming or aggressive to others. The therapy has been proven very successful, Clemons said, and focuses on self-calming skills, mindfulness and meditation techniques.
When the training is complete, Wood County should have 30 to 40 therapists available with expertise in the DBT techniques.
The levy makes up one-third of the county’s funding for mental health and addiction services, according to Doug Cubberley, president of the Wood County ADAMHS Board.
The 1-mill replacement levy will bring in approximately $3.2 million a year.
Passage of the levy is vital since this is the final year of the current levy, Cubberley said.
“If this levy fails to get the majority vote, our programs will have to be severely curtailed,” he said.
At the same time as seeing rising costs for services, ADAMHS is also seeing a drop in help from the state and federal government. A decade ago, state and federal money made up 60 percent of the ADAMHS budget. Now the local levy dollars have to bear the burden of 75 percent of the budget.
Clemons stressed that the board has reduced expenses and secured a number of grants.
“We have made prudent reductions in our budgets,” Clemons said. “We are conscientious about using taxpayer dollars.”
The board has focused on prevention programs, more rapid responses, mobile crisis services, expanded recovery programs, and better training for therapists. All those efforts are making a difference, he said.
“We’re seeing more and more people recover,” Clemons said.