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Letters to the Editor 

Funding Mental Health

Regarding the recent Gambit editorial "Time to Shift the Paradigm" (Nov. 29): Providing mental health and substance abuse resources for all of our residents — in particular defendants in our criminal justice system — is something that we deem a priority.

  Reports by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimated that an overwhelming majority of defendants in need of behavioral health interventions are under-educated, under-employed, and under-resourced. Many of New Orleans' low-income residents live in extreme poverty, and high rates of substance abuse and mental health disorders among individuals, often compounded by the trauma of surviving Hurricane Katrina, have created an extremely active criminal justice population with limited resources for substance abuse and mental health services.

  We recognize that providing these resources on the front end will not only improve the quality of life for this population, but also cost the taxpayers less on the back end and will make our city a safer and better place to live, work, and visit.

  Since April 2011, the City's Heath Department, using technical assistance from SAMHSA, convened Municipal Court officials and a coalition of 45 stakeholder organizations to identify priorities in improving the continuum of care for behavioral health populations in the city. The result of this convening was the identification of the immediate need to embed resources in Municipal Court that would link people with mental health and substance abuse services. We are making some progress on the priorities including completing a catalog of behavioral health service providers for the court and other constituencies that will be publicly available at the end of December.

  Based on the collective priorities of the convened stakeholders, the city also took the lead in developing a service model that would embed resources in the Municipal Court to better link clients to behavioral health services. The program would have built upon the drug and mental health courts at Criminal District Court, which have showed us an early model.

  Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful in receiving a federal grant to help implement the more comprehensive approach, but we continue to pursue funding for an initiative that will work with the courts to provide evidence-based practices for screening, education, assessment, placement in treatment and auxiliary services; partner treatment providers will provide the treatment utilizing approved evidence-based practices. This model would better coordinate court-mandated screening, referral monitoring and treatment without discrimination based on clinical need or defendant characteristic and without increasing case processing time.

  We know the system we have currently is woefully inadequate and has many gaps, but we are taking the necessary steps to develop a model system and to aggressively pursue funding for these vital services. We will continue to work with our partners at the local, state and federal levels towards that end.

Dr. Karen DeSalvo
Health Commissioner
City of New Orleans

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