Montgomery County used pandemic funding to create a mental health unit last year. Now, it’s paying off

Montgomery County is seeing more calls related to mental health issues since commissioners created a new mental health unit in 2021 with federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act.

After commissioners committed to focusing on the growing mental health crisis spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, Precinct 1 Constable Philip Cash said mental health calls have increased but noted that is due to deputies doing more follow up checks with patients.

In July 2021, commissioners approved 10 new positions for Cash along with another position in the County Attorney’s Office to address the growing number of mental health cases in the county. The county funded those positions through the American Rescue Plan Act.

Additionally, in August 2021, the court agreed to allocate up to $6 million in ARPA funds to help re-establish Tri-County Mental Health in east Montgomery County.

ARPA provided $1.9 trillion in federal dollars nationwide to help in the recovery of economic and the health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The county received $57 million in 2021 and will receive an additional $57 million in 2022.

“The funds you provided our office are being well spent,” Cash told commissioners. “It took us a while to get some really good employees but we are fully staffed on the ARPA deputies. This is working out for our community.”

Cash said in 2021 his department received 4,765 mental health calls. Since January, the department has received 4,785 calls. Of those calls, 2,591 were deputies following up on patients, Cash said.

“It’s demanding,” he said, adding deputies have made 916 court-ordered transport calls which include from hospitals to mental health facilities and bringing patients to court. “We have seen an influx in Harris County patients being brought o our hospitals. We have to follow orders on where to take them.”

Cash said some days as many as eight people are waiting to be taken to a facility somewhere in the Houston region.

“We are not depleting officers in Montgomery County but we will take them one at a time where they need to go.”

County Attorney B.D. Griffin said his office also has seen mental health cases increase to 1,359 in 2021 from 341 in 2016. Griffin said to date this year there have been 1,102 cases, putting the county on track to hit 1,800 cases by the end of the year.

Cases, he said, are orders for detention, protective custody and/or enforcement medications.

“We are seeing an influx and no decrease, unfortunately,” Griffin said. “We hoped as COVID got later and later that we would see some decrease but so far it hasn’t translated to that this year.”

Commissioners were supportive of Cash’s efforts and said they are currently looking at using remaining ARPA funds to continue the county effort to address mental health.

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