Williamson County created a Mobile Outreach Team (MOT) in 2004 to deal with many issues surrounding mentally ill citizens that live here. MOT has trained mental health social workers and counselors who go out to the homes and businesses around the county to assist those that are in a mental health crisis. According to the National Institute for Mental Health (http://www.nimh.nih.org), approximately 26.2% of American adults suffer from one or more mental disorder, or one in four. Of those, only 36% are receiving treatment. This, of course, means that many, many folks who have mental illnesses are untreated here in Williamson County and throughout the USA. To deal with this epidemic on a local level, the commissioners court at the time, including me, formed MOT. Since that time, MOT has been a shining example of how local solutions can improve the quality of life for all citizens. Annie Burwell, director of MOT, and her team have literally saved hundreds of lives and bettered many more. They work closely with the Sheriff’s Office Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), which is comprised of specially trained law enforcement officers.
I have had the privilege to work closely with Ms. Burwell and MOT in my role as a member of the county’s Mental Health Task Force for the past seven years. I have gone on ride alongs with them several times. Here is a typical example of someone helped by the team: A family member of a lady in Round Rock called 911 because the lady was in an highly agitated state and suicidal. Both CIT and MOT responded, as the lady’s boyfriend was known to be violent in the past. Upon arrival, the lady stated that her boyfriend was in jail for domestic violence. Since he was not working, he did not pay the rent on their home, and she was about to be evicted, causing her much anxiety. She had a multitude of medical issues, also. The MOT counselor worked with her to help her find another home and to get assistance with moving. Had MOT not been there, it is hard to say what would have happened, but she would most likely have ended up ill and homeless on the streets of Williamson County.
Over the years that MOT has been in existence, the team has saved the county millions of dollars, as well as helping those in need. The way they are able to do this is by diverting folks from our county jail and emergency rooms to more appropriate settings. For example, the mentally ill are often arrested for relatively minor crimes, such as trespassing due to being disoriented. Housing the mentally ill who have committed non-violent petty crimes in the jail is expensive and also sometimes not the most appropriate setting. Often by helping these folks get the help they need, jail time can be avoided. Another savings is in the reduction of EMS calls for the mentally ill. MOT responds to many of these calls, so EMS can serve other citizens more effectively. The Texas legislature, for example, cut the state budget in many areas this year, but did not significantly reduce the funding for mental health crisis services, because these programs are an effective and efficient use of funds, as well as being better for clients. In fact, three former clients of MOT spoke in commissioners court recently about the positive effects MOT had had on their lives.
At least one member of the commissioners court has publicly stated that he would like the court to consider not longer funding the program in the upcoming budget for the 2011-2012 budget year. I strongly disagree with that proposal and support continued funding of this important and efficient program.
(The observations and opinions in this article are mine and do not reflect those of any other person or organization.)