The police shooting of Osaze Osagie in State College a year ago began a community-wide discussion about mental health services, race relations and police policies.
The Borough of State College and Centre County teamed up to create a Task Force on Mental Health Crisis Services, with a goal to assess the current system and recommend changes.
WPSU’s Min Xian talked with Patricia Best, chair of the task force, about that plan.
Min Xian: Patricia Best, thanks for joining us.
Patricia Best: I'm very pleased to be invited. Thanks so much for talking with me today.
Min Xian: You were appointed to be the chair of the task force in January. Can you talk about the objectives of the task force?
Patricia Best: Absolutely. The task force was commissioned by the Centre County commissioners and the Borough Council of State College, and it has a very specific, very clear task force mission. And that mission is to draw a map of our current health crisis system in Centre County, examine that map and then produce some recommendations and those recommendations should take into account the strengths of the system. What are we doing well and should continue to do or even expand? What can we enhance or improve or change about what we are doing now? So those are the two aspects of the charge from the commissioners and the Borough Council.
Min Xian 0:58
I understand the task force is working on its first assignment right now, which is to map out the different pathways of how crisis services are delivered from when a contact is first made to when someone in need is given a treatment plan. So why is that the first step and what has the task force learned so far?
Patricia Best 1:21
We're really looking at an ecosystem of mental health crisis services, so that's a wonderful thing in that we have different methods of responding to different needs. On the other hand, it's also a very complex task to produce a map for that. I think it was very wise of the council and the commissioners to say, first of all, let's map and actually see that we do understand exactly what occurs when. So the mapping of this is really about who does what? Where do they do it? When do they do it? Why do they do it? To whom do they hand off the person in need? And then what happens after that?
Min Xian 2:01
Can you describe some of the most common pathways that we are seeing in the county?
Patricia Best 2:06
When a person presents help, they may seek help themselves. They may be brought by a loved one or a family member, they may encounter someone in a social service responsibility or the police. Depending upon which of those things happens, they may come to the emergency room, which is very often what happens in that regard. It may occur in a school, it may be a counselor or someone else who comes in contact with a child or a young person. It'll be the task of this group, to begin to make that clearer about where those handoffs occur and what happens in the white spaces between the efforts that are provided.
Min Xian 2:46
And in many cases, as you mentioned, law enforcement and incarceration are intertwined with mental health. A lot of people with mental health issues do make that first contact with police officers, and many of them as we know end up in jails or prisons rather than mental health facilities. How does that factor into the work of the task force and its goal in seeking change?
Patricia Best 3:12
What we are doing in order to produce the map is we have a consultant who has conducted more than 50 interviews in the community. And among those interviewed are law enforcement and mental health providers, and also families and consumers and individuals who have encountered the system. Part of what we are doing as we gather these data, and in terms of analysis will be to look at research, we'll be looking at models, we'll be looking at standards, regulations and laws. We'll be looking at local statistics as well as national statistics. And those will include the kinds of data that you're just describing. So that will be part of our discussion.
Min Xian 3:51
Later on, the task force will analyze where gaps exist in mental health services. Can you talk about the current infrastructure and maybe some known areas of challenge, for example, related to funding and hospital resources?
Patricia Best 4:07
Two areas that I think have come to light in the public hearing, for example, that has informed the work of the task force are equity and access. Equity in terms of racial equity across services, even gender and age equity, and also the special needs of the kinds of behaviors and biases that exist in the treatment of mental health and mental illness in and of itself. So issues of equity I expect will be part of our examination, but I expect will be part of recommendations. Secondary - access. There is a national crisis in services and the number of psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, social workers, available to respond quickly in terms of crisis and then even to support treatment after the crisis has been addressed. So I think it would be fair for me to say at this point, before the task force has really conducted its examination in full that those are two broad areas that will be part of the report.
Min Xian 5:07
Can you describe to us the timeline the task force is working by?
Patricia Best 5:13
We are still working very hard to have a report to the community in July. We intend to continue the analysis and then we'll be working on the writing during May and June and we also will be scheduling a time to report back to the community and ask for some additional input. So that endpoint still is July, we're still being optimistic that we can produce an accurate, a thorough, a forthright and [an] actionable report by July.
Min Xian 5:43
Friday will be the one-year anniversary of the death of Osaze Osagie, which pushed the borough and the county to create the task force. What about this particular incident do you think set the community response in motion and have you seen any changes already taking place because the community reaction has been really strong?
Patricia Best 6:08
My involvement really has been with the task force. And as you mentioned, I just became part of the task force in January, so I'm not sure that I'm the best person to respond to that particular question. I think it was clear and was certainly part of the determination by the commissioners in the council, that looking into our mental health crisis system in the view of that tragedy was something that would help us to avoid future tragedies of that nature. As is often in our society, perhaps some of our best work comes, unfortunately, after a tragic incident.
Min Xian 6:46
Patricia Best, thank you very much for talking with us.
Patricia Best 6:49
You're quite welcome.
Min Xian 6:51
Patricia Best is the chair of the State College/Centre County Task Force on Mental Health Crisis Services.
I’m Min Xian, WPSU.