TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Back in late March, the Travis County Commissioners Court voted to move forward with recommendations made by the Dell Medical School’s forensic mental health report — including the creation of a mental health diversion center.
The report was the culmination of a 10-month project that looked at people within the Travis County Jail system with mental health and substance use disorders. It found that approximately 900 people with a “mental health identifier” reside in the Travis County jail at any given time, amounting to just shy of 40% of the jail’s population.
In March, Travis County Judge Andy Brown referred to the county jail as the largest mental health facility within the county.
So, just shy of three months later: Where does work stand with the county’s mental health diversion efforts?
On Tuesday, county staff said they have set aside planning funds and begun site visits to determine where the center will be held. They’ve also submitted applications for technical assistance with the project, as well as launched biweekly meetings with county stakeholders.
Focus areas for county stakeholders, set to be divvied up into subcommittees, includes concentrations on the pilot project, diversion center services, the center’s construction, community outreach efforts and data and technology work related to it.
So far, the county has hired a project worker to assist with the community engagement components of the project. They are also looking into funding availabilities to bring on a project manager to oversee the project and make sure all the working groups are aligned on project goals.
Given the complexities involved, staff are also evaluating the possibility of bringing on a consulting firm with mental health expertise to guide the pilot’s launch. Pilar Sanchez, county executive for health and human services, told commissioners Tuesday the county will be creating a task force that includes multiple county departments and external stakeholders to help facilitate work.
Right now, Sanchez said it is critical county officials determine the most impactful diversion services to plan for — ones that can begin work even before the physical diversion center is built.
“What are the diversion pilot services that we can begin implementing?” she said. “And so that really is the concrete first step we need to take.”
Commissioner Jeff Travillion said he hopes the court can guide staff on how to best build a roadmap for the pilot and identify where priorities lie and how to achieve them.
“It’s important that as we build a diversion center or an ecosystem for the center, I want to make sure that we are also focusing on reaching out to and training families that have family members that are impacted,” he added. “A lot of times, we don’t know the difference between assisting and enabling, and I think it would be good to make sure that not only is it community-centered but that there are some family-centered portions as well.”