Local News

Wake County invests $30.6 million into mental health services

Posted June 5, 2018 8:07 p.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 11:14 a.m. EDT

— Recent school shootings across the country have renewed calls for increased funding for mental health programs, and Wake County commissioners say they are actively taking steps to make that happen.

Wake County EMS Chief of Operations Jeff Hammerstein said, historically, first responders didn’t have much to offer in the way of a mental health crisis.

“Traditionally, law enforcement only had the jail to offer. EMS only had the emergency department to offer,” he said.

But now, Wake County EMS personnel are participating in crisis intervention training.

Hammerstein said a decision made Monday by the Wake County Board of Commissioners underscores the need for trained mental health professionals on the scene of a crisis.

“Increasingly, we look at, when we arrive at the scene, is there something better Can we do better for you than just arrive at the hospital and leave you there?” he said.

Wake County invests $30.6 million into mental health services

In a 6-1 vote, commissioners adopted a budget that would invest $30.6 million into mental and behavioral health services.

County leaders identified three key services that tend to be top of mind: $750,000 for a behavioral health urgent care program, $400,000 for school-based mental health teams and $850,000 for mobile crisis pilot programs that would allow mental health experts to team up with first responders.

Behavioral health urgent care centers would be designed to address a service gap and provide faster, less expensive service for patients while freeing up space at emergency rooms.

“It’s important for the entire community to understand that we can't forever depend on the most traditional ways of responding to emergencies,” Hammerstein said.

In a time when many people are calling for different tactics, Hammerstein commends the decision of Wake County leaders.

“When we get to the scene of a call, if they need something other than service of the emergency department, what can we do to get them that more appropriate level of care, that more appropriate type of service and more quickly?” he said.

The $30.6 million to mental health services in 2019 is a 13 percent increase from what the county budgeted for in the 2018 fiscal year.