It’s not easy to provide health care in Wyoming. Low populations mean low revenues to support services. Health care employers are always struggling to recruit and retain employees. And long …
It’s not easy to provide health care in Wyoming. Low populations mean low revenues to support services. Health care employers are always struggling to recruit and retain employees. And long distances between providers make accessing services difficult.
On top of all these challenges, mental health care providers also must overcome the stigma attached to mental illnesses, which discourages many people from getting help. All these problems have contributed to Wyoming having the highest suicide rate in the nation.
Last month, Wyoming joined in the national implementation of the 988 crisis hotline number, which replaces the former 10-digit number with a three-digit code, just as we have with the general emergency 911 number. It was a great step toward addressing one gap in mental health care.
Andi Summerville, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Centers, discussed at a meeting of the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Labor, Health and Social Services Committee how vital such a hotline is to a comprehensive mental health care system.
About 80% of crisis calls can be handled over a phone, Summerville told the committee, by directing them to services that can address the caller’s needs.
Calls to 988 are routed to two call centers in Wyoming, one in Greybull and another in Casper. Together, they provide 24/7 service.
The federal government has provided grants to the call centers, and the Wyoming Legislature appropriated $2.1 million from the American Rescue Plan Act funding to support it.
This was a solid step toward improving mental health care services in Wyoming. However, as Summerville explained to the committee, a comprehensive system would include an active mobile crisis team to respond to those callers whose needs can’t be addressed with human contact and good referrals. Wyoming currently has none, and so that responsibility falls to law enforcement and paramedics. Likewise, crisis facilities are few and far between. Cloud Peak Counseling is the only resource in the Big Horn Basin providing crisis stabilization services, and there are only three others in the state.
A comprehensive system would also include post-crisis support services at the back end of the line.
Such a network, Summerville said, will result in about 85% of those with a crisis remaining stable in the community after treatment. That means they usually can maintain employment, which will lower their need for scarce social services.
Wyomingites are reluctant to look to government for solutions, and they don’t want the government spending too much on social services. It’s really a good idea to be wary of government solutions. When government takes on too many roles in addressing social problems, you often get more bloat and taxes and little in the way of solutions.
However, when services are so scarce that they become nearly inaccessible, and those in crisis don’t get the help they need, taxpayers end up paying more through law enforcement, prisons, emergency rooms, ambulance transport, and homelessness — and the illness remains mostly untreated.
It behooves the state to address some of the gaps in mental health care. A small investment in services can save taxpayers money down the line — on top of saving lives.