Community leaders urge support for levy
By DENISE GRANT
Staff Writer, The Courier
With the election now just days away, several community leaders made a plea Thursday for voter support of a 1.3-mill replacement levy for the Hancock County Board of Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS).
Speakers at a Mental Health/Substance Abuse Coalition forum included city, school and hospital officials, judges, law enforcement, and even an economic leader.
The levy will appear on the Hancock County ballot as Issue 7.
If approved, the levy is expected to generate about $2.4 million each year and account for about 70 percent of the agency’s budget.
ADAMHS is the local mental health and substance abuse services agency for Hancock County.
One in seven Hancock County residents, roughly 10,000 people, receive services from the agency. About half receive prevention and recovery services, and half receive treatment services.
The forum was held at the Hancock County Courthouse in the courtroom of Common Pleas Judge Reginald Routson.
Routson called the courtroom an unusual but fitting environment for Thursday’s event.
“This is the laboratory where we are trying to figure out what to do,” Routson said.
Without the treatment supported by ADAMHS and the levy, Routson said it would be “impossible” to find solutions for people who struggle with addiction and often find themselves in legal trouble.
He said punishment alone can’t fix the problem.
Sheriff Michael Heldman said as many as 10 people a day go through detox at the Hancock County jail.
“The jail has become the detox facility of Hancock County,” Heldman said.
Century Health and the jail split the cost of a full-time counselor to work with inmates.
Heldman said the jail population continues to climb, and the average stay is also longer. A full 89 percent of the inmates have addiction or mental health issues, he said.
Routson is co-chairman of the Mental Health/Substance Abuse Coalition. The coalition was recently formed to coordinate community efforts.
For the past two years, Routson and Judge Joseph Niemeyer have presided over a drug court. Drug court is held each Tuesday at 2 p.m. at the Hancock County Courthouse, and is open to the public. The drug court is for low-level, nonviolent offenders who do not face mandatory sentencing requirements.
The Ohio Supreme Court granted judges the authority to maintain the “specialized docket” in 2013, giving them more authority over sentencing in drug cases. There are about 80 drug courts in Ohio. Judges can reward or punish, and order treatment or jail.
The Hancock County Probate and Juvenile Court also conducted its first Family Dependency Treatment Court on Sept. 1. The court is another specialized docket meant to address drug cases involving families with children who have been removed from the home. There are three active cases in the court.
Both Ed Kurt, superintendent of Findlay City Schools, and Andrea Koepke, dean of the University of Findlay’s College of Health Professions, said the schools rely heavily on supports funded by the levy.
ADAMHS supports five Hancock County agencies which assist its mission by providing mental health and substance use treatment services. The agencies are A Renewed Mind, Century Health, Family Resource Center, Focus on Friends, and NAMI of Hancock County.
“It’s estimated that one in five Hancock County residents suffers from a mental health issue,” Kurt said.
With a student population of about 6,000, that statistic weighs heavily on the school district and its resources.
“The schools are a reflection of the community,” he said.
Koepke said students “come with a history.”
Students who struggle with addiction or mental health issues are referred to counselors and support groups. Some are taken to the hospital’s emergency room, she said.
She said the community supports are needed.
“We cannot care for our students by ourselves,” Koepke said.
Scott Malaney, president of Blanchard Valley Health System, said the hospital is the community’s “final safety net.”
He said taxpayer support of the levy is needed Tuesday.
“Community,” he said. “This is another issue of community.”
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