Montgomery County officials presented a report showing the county’s increase in reported mental health cases at a July 26 commissioners court meeting. Commissioners were not asked to take immediate action and did not bring a vote.
County Attorney BD Griffin delivered the report, while Precinct 1 Constable Philip Cash and Lieutenant Brian Luly presented an update on the crisis intervention team unit, which received an expansion in August 2021. Both Griffin’s and Cash’s units are funded using American Rescue Plan Act funds.
“We’ve really started to see rapid increases [from 2016],” Griffin said.
Griffin told Community Impact Newspaper that the cases were a combination of walk-in cases, forced medication orders and emergency mental health detention warrants, used when a patient is believed to be at risk of harming themselves or others as defined by the Texas Health and Safety Code.
Total county cases increased yearly from 2016-21 from 341 to 1,359, an increase of nearly 300%. To date in 2022, 1,102 cases have been reported in Montgomery County, and Griffin said he believes the number could exceed 1,800 cases by the end of the year.
The average number of cases per day increased from 3.5 in 2019 to 8 in 2022. Griffin said his staff had been optimistic the relaxation of COVID-19 protocols would relieve mental health strains but admitted economic concerns may have continued increasing. Area nonprofits reported a surge in demand for their services during the pandemic, Community Impact Newspaper previously reported.
Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough asked if an “influx” of cases were coming from Harris County. Griffin said he did not have specific numbers but stressed these cases were not crime-related.
“We have issues every week with emergency rooms, with facilities not having enough beds,” Griffin said. “[Patients] are not able to be released, which generates [case numbers].”
Griffin suggests increasing the number of staff handling cases in his office when budget workshops begin Aug. 2. He said the staff consists of a full-time attorney and two legal assistants, but a further increase in cases could add “strain” to those units.
“I’ve prepared the budget without any increase in staff, but looking at the numbers—but if we want to fund a position with ARPA—we can do that,” Griffin said.
Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack said he was opposed to funding more positions with ARPA, calling it “not smart.”
Constables report call increases
Cash delivered an update on behalf of Precinct 1’s mental health and crisis intervention unit. He said the unit had received 4,783 calls from January-June this year, already surpassing the 4,765 calls received in the entirety of 2021.
According to Cash’s statistics, calls for mental health services increased from 1,252 in 2017 to 4,765 in 2021. Cash projected the unit would receive 9,566 calls for service by the end of 2022, a 101% increase from 2021.
“This is coming up on the one-year anniversary of the ARPA funding you all graciously supplied to help us support our community with the increase in mental health calls from COVID[-19],” Cash said. “So far this year, January to June, we’re already past what we [received] last year.”
Cash also presented data showing calls by type. The most common category of calls from January-June were crisis intervention team miscellaneous, which consist of check-ins with citizens who have recently suffered mental health issues as well as those who recently completed outpatient visits with Tri-County Behavioral Health, a federally qualified health center. These calls have made up half of this year’s total, Cash said, though he noted the ARPA funds allow officers to increase their frequency.
Over a quarter of calls are labeled as crisis intervention team responses, which involve the unit responding to office calls or 911 dispatches for individuals suffering from mental health emergencies, including suicidal thoughts and actions as well as overdoses.
Cash said the unit is also called to transport some patients to Harris County facilities, where they are residents. He said the unit responds to calls around the Kingwood area where the two counties share a border.
Keough asked Cash where he believes the future of the unit lies. Cash said he believes “there is more education to be done.”
“We need to continue working to show people that we’re out here to help,” Cash said. “If people see something, please give us a call.”