This summer, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) announced $1 million in federal Mental Health Block Grant funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration to expand Outpatient Competency Restoration (OCR) services for Texans with mental health and substance use disorders living in mostly rural communities.
Expanding outpatient competency restoration programs aligns with the 2020 recommendations by HHSC’s advisory body, the Joint Committee on Access and Forensic Services (JCAFS). Anderson County Judge Robert Johnston and CJCAT General Counsel Jim Allison serve on this advisory committee.
“While this grant is wholly inadequate to meet the state’s obligation to provide services for these citizens, we appreciate this initial effort and call upon the State to eliminate the backlog of mentally ill county jail inmates who are waiting for months for access to state facilities,” Allison said.
Outpatient competency restoration services are for defendants who have been found incompetent to stand trial due to their mental illness. They are provided mental health and substance use treatment services in a community setting, as well as legal education so they can face their charges in court. Competency restoration services help to give people a rational and factual understanding of the legal proceedings they will encounter. Services include stabilization, therapy, medication, peer support, basic rehabilitation therapies such as life skills, and education about the legal proceedings.
“With these grant funds, we are improving access to services for rural Texans and working to ensure people who are experiencing mental health crises have the support and legal education they need,” said Sonja Gaines, HHS deputy executive commissioner for Intellectual and Developmental Disability and Behavioral Health Services.
The five contractors to receive funds are Bluebonnet Trails Community Services, $223,334; Center for Life Resources, $165,000; LifePath Systems, $223,333; MHMR Services for the Concho Valley, $165,000; and Pecan Valley Centers, $223,333.
“I am encouraged and excited by the expansion of these services. Directing resources to the intersection of mental health and criminal justice is essential, especially in rural communities with limited services,” said State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst. “Our partners’ work will hopefully ensure rural Texans have access to the care they need in community settings, rather than awaiting services in jail.”
Created in 2007, outpatient competency restoration programs are designed to help reduce the number of people waiting in jail for competency restoration services at a state hospital.
HHSC is expanding outpatient competency restoration services in Texas by increasing the number of contracted providers from 13 to 18, providing Texans with greater access to OCR services across the state for people deemed incompetent to stand trial.
Services are provided in homes, crisis respite facilities, OCR transitional houses, and Local Mental Health Authority clinic offices across the state to establish support networks and develop coping strategies for people in the OCR program, who can require intensive rehabilitation.
“On behalf of the Supreme Court of Texas, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the Judicial Commission on Mental Health, we applaud HHSC’s announcement of expanded resources for outpatient competency restoration,” said Justice Jane Bland and Judge Barbara Hervey in a joint statement. “Any additional assistance for the mental health community is something to be celebrated.”