Officials gathered at the Tyler Rose Garden Center on Friday afternoon to hear from Smith County mental health doctors and professionals.
Smith County law enforcement and legal officials, including Sheriff Larry Smith, Police Chief Jimmy Toler, Tyler Mayor Don Warren, 14th District Court Judge Reeve Jackson, District Attorney Jacob Putman and representatives from Matt Schaefer’s office were among those in attendance to hear the professionals talk about coming up with a plan to address mental health in the county.
“These are the people that will make the difference in how we treat mental health from here on out,” said Sandra Brazil-Hamilton, president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Tyler and diversion coordinator for Smith County.
The main goal of the event was to present the Jail Diversion Program and to bring awareness to mental health in Smith County. The program is through a grant from Texas Judicial Commission on Mental Health for the Community Diversion Coordinator Pilot Program, which effectively allows the county to hire someone as an advocate for individuals in the county jail dealing with mental health issues.
The grant is a total of $171,000 for a two-year span of time and is of no cost to the county.
Mental health professionals from UT Health East Texas, Christus hospital and the Andrew’s Center, talked about keeping those who need mental health services out of the system and jail. Many have minor, misdemeanor charges, officials said.
“We have a mental health crisis in East Texas and it has to be addressed because it’s growing. The pandemic and more… we’re seeing people with depression, anxiety and fearfulness and all the things that are crippling if they don’t get the help they need,” Brazil-Hamilton said.
Brazil-Hamilton said the need is being seen, citing the grant awarded to be able to begin the program in the county.
“We all need to collaborate to create a process so that they can be taken to treatment and not just sitting in a jail,” Brazil-Hamilton said.
Brazil-Hamilton had already retired from her career in mental health and substance use treatment at a local hospital, but jumped back in due to the need for mental health issues going on in East Texas. When the jail diversion program was presented, Brazil-Hamilton was so excited because it’s something she had always wanted to be a part of.
A task force is being gathered to bridge the gap in services offered. Multiple mental health advocates and professionals will begin meeting Friday, Jan. 21.
At the event, several mental health physicians said their buildings stay fully occupied with patients who need mental health services. At least two facilities that house about 14 beds were mentioned.