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Drug settlement cash going toward mental healthcare in Marble Falls

Bluebonnet Trails Community Services in Marble Falls

Bluebonnet Trails Community Services, 4606 Innovation Loop, is one of the few mental health providers in Marble Falls. The city hopes to expand its offerings to address gaps in behavioral health services following the conclusion of a study examining the current mental healthcare system. Staff photo by Nathan Bush

Marble Falls medical experts have seen a dramatic rise in mental health issues over the years, especially since the pandemic, but proper care is often out-of-reach of those in need as the city lacks adequate resources, including beds in overnight and long-term stay facilities.

The problem is both personal and public, according to Marble Falls Police Chief Glenn Hanson, who has been with the department for about 20 years.

“There are any numbers of calls that are burglaries and theft and drug possessions and things like that that really begin as a mental health issue at the core of it,” he said.

Marble Falls hopes its share of money from a national opioid drug settlement can identify and fill gaps in its behavioral health services. The City Council on June 20 approved $15,000 for a study and another $2,500 for expenses.

Texas received $1.6 billion out of a $26 billion settlement with the nation’s big three pharmaceutical companies. Marble Falls got roughly $37,000 of that money from the Texas Opioid Abatement Fund Council, which operates out of the state comptroller’s office. The council was formed to ensure money is dispersed fairly and used properly on facilities and operations related to healthcare and recovery.  

Current mental healthcare providers in Marble Falls include Bluebonnet Trails Community Services, Baylor Scott and White, Lone Star Circle of Care, and the Phoenix Center

Many of these clinics specialize in mental healthcare for minors.

“There are lots of opportunities for behavioral health services for minors, but once they become adults, it seems to be a real challenge,” Mayor Dave Rhodes said at the June 20 council meeting.

Assistant City Manager Russell Sander reaffirmed the growing need for mental healthcare during a presentation to the council.

“Since the pandemic, our agencies and our community have seen additional needs for behavioral health,” he said.

Sander pointed out that Burnet County Health Authority Dr. Juliette Madrigal reported an approximate sevenfold increase in people needing these services.

“That’s just in her practice,” he said.

On the law enforcement side of things, many of Hanson’s officers have taken classes to better handle mental health calls. 

“In the last few years, the state has mandated some training for officers for critical incidents and interventions and whatnot, and that’s all fine and well, but that just scratches the surface,” Hanson said. “That just gives our officers kind of an idea of different mental health issues and how they may present and how we can deal with them differently from a typical crime-call-for-service.”

Marble Falls officers often call the Burnet County Sheriff’s Office for backup when they encounter a subject with obvious mental health issues. The Sheriff’s Office has two, grant-funded positions specially trained to handle people dealing with mental health crises.

“They’ve had a little bit more in-depth training,” Hanson said of the deputy sheriffs. “And they can do evaluations and line up the bed for the person and get them to it.”

The search for available beds can take these deputies on statewide journeys.

“Sometimes, they’re driving them all over the state,” Hanson said. “South of San Antonio, north of Waco, it just depends on where they can find a bed to put them in.”

An in-patient clinic would not only lighten the load of the Sheriff’s Office but also dramatically help residents struggling with mental health issues.

“What we really need is the followup,” Hanson said. “When we encounter an individual in public who needs mental health services, a lot of times, the big jam-up is trying to find somewhere that has a bed that these folks can be taken to to get the help that they need.”

The city has hired Alliance Strategic Health Advisors to conduct a study and examine the current state of behavioral healthcare within a 90-day time period. 

Once the study is complete, Alliance will then make recommendations for improvements. The firm has provided similar services to towns and cities across the country, including Lubbock, Waco, and Corpus Christi.

“I have experience working with communities who have plans to address these types of initiatives where they may be resources they can tap into,” Michael Arvin, Alliance’s CEO and president, told the council on June 20.

In a preliminary look at the data, Arvin noticed that many residents have to drive long distances for behavioral and mental healthcare.

“You can look at the 281 corridor. Just by early indications, a lot of people are leaving the community and going all the way to San Antonio or Temple and even all the way up to North Texas because Austin doesn’t have enough beds,” he said.

With the study, Marble Falls officials hope to attract more providers to the city, something that might be possible with current state legislation, Arvin said.

“The good news is there have been dollars and resources allocated (by the 88th Texas Legislature) to additional mental health and behavioral health services,” he said.