MORGAN COUNTY – New resources are being funneled into Morgan County to address the county’s growing mental illness and substance misuse concerns.
Kendrick Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Mooresville, has awarded $927,381 to eight organizations to help manage the county’s rising mental and physical health deficiencies. The priority areas include mental health, substance misuse, physical activity and nutrition.
Keylee Wright, executive director at Kendrick Foundation, said this latest round of funding aligns with the county’s top health needs identified in the Franciscan Health Morgan County Community Health Needs Assessment Report.
“So these have been our priority areas. They’re data-driven based on the county’s greatest health needs as well as the county health rankings and roadmaps,” Wright said. “So each year, we do have a competitive grant cycle and the last several years have been based on those priority areas.”
The funding is part of a multilateral effort to address the mental and physical health of Morgan County residents on multiple fronts. These include combating homelessness throughout the county, providing much-needed mental health resources and facilitating programs that encourage youth to be physically active.
Finding a way to introduce more mental health resources has become a priority for many stakeholders and advocates within the area, with the county historically having insufficient access to mental health providers. Morgan County is defined as a shortage area for mental health professionals by the Health Resources & Services Administration.
“Not only do we have this great need but we are also a designated health professional shortage area for mental health and primary care,” Wright said. “I think primary care can have a role to play in promoting mental health and supporting those individuals with mental health needs and substance misuse issues.”
Wright acknowledged efforts underway at the state and national levels to change poor health outcomes, such as the 988 Hotline.
Indiana’s public health infrastructure has not been adequately funded for some time, but Wright said she is hopeful that is beginning to change. However, Wright emphasized, these types of resources must remain accessible locally.
“There are a lot of efforts underway at the federal and state levels. Certainly, we have the 988 Crisis Response Line and then we have our own Be Well Crisis Helpline but I think it’s really important to have resources available locally for Morgan County residents who are experiencing some sort of need within mental health or substance misuse,” Wright said.
Indiana launched its new 988 Hotline this summer as part of a comprehensive effort to bolster the state’s mental health response outcomes. Indiana Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, told the Reporter-Times in late October the hotline still has a long way to go to secure the necessary funding before it can be fully implemented as a robust system.
In its current state, the 988 hotline does not have the infrastructure in place to complement its 911 counterpart. For example, the system does not yet have the capability to dispatch mental health professionals on-site to serve individuals needing immediate assistance.
The ultimate goal of the system is to have the phone lines fully staffed and answering incoming calls and professionals working in the field who are available to help anyone experiencing a crisis get the help they require in their moment of need.
Bray has previously stated he would like the system to be fully operating by April next year but admitted he is not sure if that will be possible.
Several different initiatives are currently underway to introduce more mental health resources to the county at a time of dire need.
One of these includes the nonprofit Hoosier Action, which is leading a growing network comprised of community organizers who are asking the county commissioners and county council to mobilize a crisis response unit to manage mental health crises in Morgan County.
Focusing on the youth
Wright also discussed the work Kendrick Foundation is doing in Morgan County’s four public school systems to address the mental health needs of students attending Mooresville Consolidated School Corporation, Metropolitan School District of Martinsville and Monroe-Gregg School District.
“Just last year, we started a special three-year project with Adult & Child Health and Centerstone for a school-based mental health initiative,” Wright said. “So they’re partnering with our county’s four public school systems in an effort to provide additional social workers and counselors.”
The foundation awarded $562,381 to Adult & Child Health and Centerstone in July as part of its initiative to provide school-based mental health services. The collaboration is in the second year of its three-year partnership.
Adult & Child Health is a community mental health center that provides support in over 130 schools across central Indiana. Centerstone is a nonprofit with a facility in Martinsville that offers mental health and substance use disorder treatment.
The focus is to intervene as early as possible to reduce the prevalence of at-risk behaviors through prevention and intervention programs. Mental health services and other resources are also available to families and faculty members in need of support. The services are delivered by psychologists, counselors and social workers.
“The priority for those services, supports and resources are, of course, the students,” Wright said. “But we’re also trying to support the faculty and staff at the schools and the student’s families. And in some cases, potentially community members.”
A growing crisis
Statistics highlight communities that are in desperate need of a helping hand across Indiana and especially in Morgan County.
The 2022 County Health Rankings & Roadmaps report that Morgan County adults average 5.1 poor mental health days per month and 16% cite frequent mental distress. Furthermore, a report recently released by the Behavioral Health Commission estimated that untreated mental illnesses cost the state $4.2 billion every year.
According to the 2020 statistics compiled by the Indiana Prevention Resource Center, Morgan County recorded 22.4 deaths per 100,000 residents as a result of intentional self-harm while the state average was 14.1 deaths per 100,000 residents.
Morgan County also has higher rates of drug overdose deaths and suicide than the state.
Substance use disorder and mental health crises are often closely related, with the current mental health crisis being exacerbated by growing substance use and overdoses. Morgan County Coroner Mike Ellis recently warned that the county’s fentanyl death count is steadily rising.
‘Education is key’:Coroner warns Morgan County’s fentanyl death count is rising.
Ellis had to request an additional $50,000 from the Morgan County Council in October to keep up with the increased number of calls his office has received. The additional funds were needed so Ellis can carry out autopsies and toxicology reports for the rest of the year.
Between July and the end of September, Ellis responded to 48 calls. Twelve of those were for overdoses. Ellis received 121 calls in 2021. He had already surpassed that number with 124 calls as of early October.
In 2021, Indiana recorded the highest number of overdoses in the state’s history as an estimated 2,755 Hoosiers died of drug overdoses. Drug overdoses in the U.S. surpassed 100,000 annually last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
‘We definitely see a need’
One of the organizations receiving funding from the Kendrick Foundation is Catholic Charities Indianapolis.
The foundation awarded Catholic Charities $80,000, the largest allocation to a single organization in this year’s competitive grant cycle, to provide additional support for its mental health specialists and case managers who work at IU Health Morgan in Martinsville.
Craig Fall, senior associate director at Catholic Charities Indianapolis, explained the role the organization plays in implementubg mental health services at IU Health Morgan. Three therapists and one case manager operate at IU Health Morgan as part of the collaboration with the Kendrick Foundation.
“We have a partnership with IU Health Morgan and our therapists are physically at the hospital. So we’re taking referrals from the physicians at IU Health Morgan. We see adults and children,” Fall said. “So we have become a part of that health continuum. All that is made possible through the Kendrick Foundation subsidy. It helps us be able to be there. We definitely see a need, for sure.”
The partnership between the two entities stretches back five years.
“In that five years, we have grown the number of therapists that we have and the amount of people that we’re impacting each year has increased,” Fall said.
Fall also noted the funding will help increase the number of mental health providers in Morgan County, improving the local population’s health outcomes in the future. There was one mental health provider per 1,470 people in Morgan County last year. Conversely, Indiana had a ratio of one mental health provider per every 560 individuals.
“Morgan County has certainly faced the challenge of needing more health providers for the county because the ratio between a person that needs a service and the number of providers has been a problem. That’s what originally led us to see the importance of grant money,” he said.
While transmission levels for the virus that causes COVID-19 remain low in Indiana, Fall said Morgan County is dealing with the lasting impacts of a global pandemic that lasted for over two years. That has exacerbated the county’s mental health needs, he said.
“There has always been a need and I think a challenge to have enough providers to serve the need. But then as we’ve had this pandemic, it’s just intensified,” Fall said. “It’s just increased more problems in these areas during the past couple of years.”