Conroe - Montgomery Edition | June 2020


Health Care Edition 2020

Evan Roberson Executive director of Tri-County Behavioral Healthcare E van Roberson, the executive director of Tri-County Behavioral Healthcare, spoke with Community Impact Newspaper in May about the ongoing coronavirus outbreak and how it is aecting mental health services in the Montgomery County area. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. BY ANDY LI

Evan Roberson has served as the executive director of Tri-County Behavioral Healthcare for seven years. (Hannah Zedaker/Community Impact Newspaper)

TCBH SERVICES Tri-County Behavioral Healthcare ensures availability of mental health and developmental disability care. • TCBH serves Montgomery, Walker and Liberty counties. • The organization’s mission is to enhance the quality of life for those with mental illness, substance use disorders, and intellectual or developmental disabilities. • Conroe Service Center is at 233 Sgt. Ed Holcomb Blvd., S., Conroe.


are not people we know, and making sure that those folks are healthy and not going to expose our sta to the coronavirus is a big concern for us. So we’ve implemented tempera- ture checks and screenings and that kind of thing. I think that’s been our biggest challenge over there is trying to keep sta available to see folks and keep their risk level under control. We have been able now to get most of the PPE [personal protective equipment] that we need in some supply. Most of our sta wear cloth masks, and we have other PPE avail- able as necessary. In the outpatient services, it’s been trying to make sure our folks stay stable. And for the most part, our folks do stay stable in outpatient services. Once they’re admitted and fully seeing us here with the caseworker and a doctor and all that, to keep all those folks stable and functioning. A lot of those people are not comfortable coming into the oce. And so we’re doing a lot of things telephonically and via video that we normally have to do face to face, but we’ve had some permissions from the state to do some things dierently. So any time you change up the whole system on the y, you know it’s kind of a complex process we serve. ARE THERE ANY SPECIFIC PROJECTS OR SERVICES THAT TRICOUNTY AS AN ORGANI ZATION HAS BEENWORKING ON TO CONTINUE TO SERVE OR TO SERVE IN NEWWAYS DURING THIS PANDEMIC? We have a crisis counseling grant from the state that is going to start here any day. And that will allow us to hire sta who will be doing phone and video outreach to the general public. It’s not for people who are in

know, somebody lost their jobs. HOWMANY PEOPLE HAVE YOU SERVED COMPARED TO THIS TIME LAST YEAR? We’re up a little bit. It’s been pretty slow though during this crisis. But annually we’ve been going up substantially here for 10 years. The numbers have been increasing here at Tri-County year over year 20% or so. So, for example, in crisis admis- sions—so those are people that we take to a psychiatric hospital—we’re up 22% over last year. ... That’s through to the end of April. DURING THE PANDEMIC, HAVE YOU SEEN A SLOWDOWN? Crisis services are kind of a re- house model. So there’s days that are really really busy, and then days that are really slow. And that’s what we’ve experienced in this crisis. We haven’t had just, you know, constant ow of crisis folks coming in our doors. Typically, this time of year, we started getting really busy. Summer is always busy for us. And so when the weather hits about 90 degrees, we usually, on a consistent basis, our numbers start to jump substantially from there on to the end of the sum- mer. We haven’t seen that come yet. I don’t see any direct correlation with COVID yet. We may see that; we probably will see it, but we haven’t seen anything yet here. WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF THE CHALLENGES THAT TRICOUNTY HAS FACED DURING THIS OUTBREAK? We’ve continued to operate through all this; we haven’t shut down at all. The biggest challenge we have had in crisis services par- ticularly is that most of the people that come in the front door in crisis

A lot of our mental health clients are at home, and they’re not getting out yet. I think that we would anticipate that we’re going to see a pretty good surge of mental health calls at some point in the not-too- distant future. And that surge is really not yet common. People are still kind of not sure about getting out and not sure about what to do. And so they’re kind of staying out. Now, that’s a risk factor as well though because we know isolation is a big risk factor for depression. And also, we know that all this, the one thing we have seen is a little tick up in substance use, abuse. Folks who are [trying] to recover, they may be using more to cope with the current stress and anxiety. One of the things that has been brought up several times by Mont- gomery County residents has been this concept that business closures and shutting down local businesses has a detrimental eect on those business owners’ mental health and could lead to suicide or other mental issues. HAS TRICOUNTY HEARD FROM PEOPLE WHOSE MENTAL HEALTH HAS BEEN AFFECTED BY BUSINESS CLOSURES? Not business closures per se but the loss of jobs; we’ve had some contact with some folks who’ve lost their job. And we know that’s going on a lot more. ... Sometimes folks who have resources, who have insurance, don’t use [Tri-County] as the rst line of contact, but we are starting to see that trickle in of folks who have life disruption at some pretty signicant level and conse- quently have become depressed and/or suicidal because of that. You


the mental health system; we’ll be doing general outreach to the public. HOWHAS THIS OUTBREAK AFFECTED LOWINCOME OR UNINSURED PEOPLE IN TRICOUNTY’S SERVICE AREA? Texas has one of the lowest insured rates in the United States. Approaching 30% of folks do not have insurance, and our focus population is the low-income, Medicaid-uninsured population. A lot of them have kind of basic needs—food, shelter, transportation, medication, things that are fairly basic—and they struggle so mightily at a time like this. Of course, anytime there’s an insurance disparity, there’s an access disparity. We try to make sure that that access is available for most folks with mental health problems, but our ability is to address medical issues, and some of these other social determinants of health are limited.



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