With human services funding taking a hit from the state, some providers in Jackson Hole are looking hard at the community’s mental health system for ways to improve and better fund it.

Five human services organizations recently banded together with the St. John’s Hospital Foundation and St. John’s Medical Center to examine the community’s mental health needs, how services are delivered and, maybe most importantly, how to foot the bill.

“The state of Wyoming has rather significantly cut back on medical — or at least health — care, including mental health,” Foundation President John Goettler said.

One of the questions a new survey seeks to answer, Goettler said, is what can we do locally.

The foundation is spearheading the first phase of the study, which involves interviews with at least 50 stakeholders, including assorted mental health professionals, physicians, law enforcement officers and elected officials.

“Our hope is we come up with a couple of good ideas,” Goettler said. “We’re not entering this with any preconceived idea of, ‘This is the way it has to go.’”

The 19-question survey asks interviewees to share general opinions about “the state of mental health in Teton County,” strengths and weaknesses of the mental health system, ideas for restructuring, thoughts on who “will be the key to making this effort succeed” and ideas for funding.

An anonymous donation made to the foundation will cover the cost of the study and associated consulting fees, Goettler said.

“The core issues just organically flow out,” Goettler said. “This past year or two, we’ve had some unique challenges that have come down. There have been a rash of Title 25s,” or state-mandated commitments. “There was a period when Van Vleck was closed down. I think it feels to me that we get through the crisis part of this, but it’s that ongoing piece” that is challenging, he said.

Interviews are expected to conclude mid-December, at which time the results will be reported to the five partners: Curran-Seeley Foundation, Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center, Teton County School District No. 1, Teton County Public Health Department, and Teton Youth and Family Services. The second phase will involve reviewing the results and possibly identifying action items.

Anyone who wishes to be part of the study can contact the St. John’s Hospital Foundation at 739-7512.

This is the latest effort to examine human services connectivity and funding, though the Human Service Council also recently addressed budget cuts.

The council, a coalition of providers including the Counseling Center and the Teton Literacy Center, recently went to the Teton County Board of Commissioners with a plea for help.

Teton Youth and Family Services Director of Operations Sarah Cavallaro said state funding was slashed by about $750,000 between last year and the current one.

“And we’re expecting more in the years to come,” she told the board.

Local organizations have increased fundraising by about $1 million between 2013 and 2016.

“It took us four years to get to an additional $1 million raised fundraising-wise,” Cavallaro said. “We have been increasing fundraising efforts, but I don’t know that we can keep up with the state cuts.”

Local providers average approximately $16.3 million worth of services “to the most vulnerable citizens in our community” annually, Cavallaro said.

“Some of us have been dealing with cuts several years prior to this, and this was definitely more significant,” said Deidre Ashley, executive director of the Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center. “We’re very efficient. We collaborate as well as we can doing projects together … just showing that we’re not expecting one fix-it. We understand it’s going to take a wider effort.”

Foundation Vice President Jen Simon said the study aims to address some of those issues.

“There isn’t a sense that there aren’t people who aren’t doing good work,” Simon said of the interviews that have been conducted so far. “Actually there’s a sense that this community has a significant number of resources and what can we do to make sure that people know how to access those resources.”

And, she continued, “that it becomes an even better system.”

Contact Melissa Cassutt at 732-7076 or county@jhnewsandguide.com.

Allie Gross covers Teton County government. Originally from the Chicago area, she joined the News&Guide in 2017 after studying politics and Spanish at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

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