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Executive Parisi Announces $500,000 “C.J. Tubbs Fund for Hope, Healing & Recovery,” Creation of “End Deaths by Despair Coalition” in Dane County’s 2020 Budget

September 24, 2019
Ariana Vruwink (608) 267-8823
County Executive

County Executive Parisi Announces 2020 Budget Initiatives to Launch New Communitywide Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Work

Today, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi joined Dane County Department Director of Emergency Management Charles Tubbs, Executive Director of Safe Communities Cheryl Wittke, and Dane County Board Chair Sharon Corrigan on the steps of the City-County Building to announce the major resources Dane County will invest in its 2020 budget to improve mental health and addiction recovery services in our community. Each year, more than $63.5 million in Dane County funds go to support community based mental health treatment and services—a figure that has more than doubled over the past decade. An additional $865,000 will be added to the 2020 budget to further address mental health and addiction recovery in our community.

“Dane County is committed to creating better access to mental health and addiction recovery services, and the actions proposed in my 2020 budget take the steps we need as a community to reach even more of our friends and neighbors who are struggling with mental illness and addiction,” said County Executive Parisi. “Our investments in mental health and addiction recovery services build upon successes and explore new opportunities to make a substantive difference for the individuals and families that call Dane County home.”

Too many times each year, families across our community experience the unrivaled pain of losing a loved one at the hands of mental illness or addiction. Earlier this year, a member of Dane County’s family lived this tragedy, when Emergency Management Director Charles Tubbs, his wife Cynthia, and their family lost their son and brother, C.J. Tubbs. To honor his life, Dane County Executive Parisi’s 2020 budget creates the “C.J. Tubbs Fund for Hope, Healing and Recovery”—a new $500,000 county grant program designed to enhance community based mental health and addiction services. These grants will be awarded early next year to those in the best position to provide direct assistance to those suffering the ill-fated effects of severe mental illness and drug or alcohol addiction.

“Cindy and I and our whole family are sincerely grateful to the community of Dane County for making this fund available to individuals with mental health and addiction illnesses,” said Tubbs. “It is time we end the shame and isolation that is caused by the stigma of mental illness.  Our entire community is being affected by this and it will take all of us to make a difference. May this fund save lives by providing hope and freedom for others who are living with mental health and addiction illnesses. As long as there is breath, there is hope!”

Standing at 6'7", C.J. Tubbs was a gentle giant well-known for his intelligence, incredible athletic ability, and kind, loving heart. Mental illness began in his early 20s and robbed him of the future he deserved. As is the case for many young people who battle these often-taboo illnesses, he sought release from his suffering through drugs and alcohol. While C.J. ultimately succumbed to the illness that he battled throughout his adult life, at the very end, his true self was present. In his final act in this life, he donated his organs to provide health, hope, and life to others. Dane County is establishing the “C.J. Tubbs Fund for Hope, Healing, and Recovery” to provide yet another way for C.J.’s life and story to positively impact those facing similar battles.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 152,000 Americans died from alcohol and drug related fatalities and suicide in 2017. That is the highest number ever recorded nationally and more than twice the total from 1999. A recent study indicated suicide rates nationally for those ages 25-64 increased 41% between 1999 and 2016. Poverty, depression, and other life circumstances are driving too many to the drastic decision of ending their own life, either with intent or accidentally through the overuse of substances. To help address this crisis, County Executive Parisi’s 2020 budget includes $20,000 to create the “End Deaths by Despair Coalition.”

Dane County will partner with Safe Communities to convene this coalition for a coordinated, communitywide dialogue and real-time review of efforts that are working—like the ED2Recovery initiative to get those who overdose on opiates into treatment after they present at a hospital—and potential new ideas to reduce the risk of deaths by despair communitywide. The “End Deaths by Despair Coalition” will bring together partners from Dane County health care and payer systems, criminal justice, K12 and higher education, non-profit and faith leaders, and human services providers to develop a shared work plan and help prevent the irreparable pain brought on by suicide and premature, preventable deaths.

“Thanks to Dane County's leadership on initiatives like ED2Recovery, programs are underway to address deaths from despair in our community,” said Wittke. “Today's announcement signals Dane County's commitment to take this effort to the next level, and offers hope that, through a concerted effort of all partners with a role to play–health care, community agencies, schools, faith communities, the criminal justice system, area businesses–we can lead the nation in progressive actions to reduce these tragic, preventable deaths.”

Known as ED2Recovery and Jail2Recovery, Dane County has long funded “recovery coaches” to intervene right at the place where overdose victims present—emergency rooms and eventually the jail. Safe Communities has seen an over 88% success rate of getting overdose victims into treatment with the helpful nudges and careful, direct guidance of these “recovery coaches” in emergency rooms. Of those who started treatment in ED2Recovery, none were readmitted to a local emergency department for an overdose. The success rate at getting inmates into treatment in the jail is 81%. Together, the two programs (with ED2Recovery beginning in 2017 and Jail2Recovery beginning in 2019) have helped over 410 individuals start treatment in just the past couple of years.

As the heroin epidemic evolves into new and different opiate dangers such as fentanyl laced cocaine, there is opportunity to do even more with “recovery coach” programming. Dane County Executive Parisi’s 2020 budget proposal includes $80,000 to expand the “recovery coach” model into Drug Court deferred prosecution programs, and community organizations like the Outreach LGBT Community Center and those who work directly with African American, Latino, and Hmong populations. Dane County has funded the ED2Recovery program since its inception, and this latest investment brings the county’s total financial support of “recovery coach” efforts to $345,191.

Dane County has put great attention in recent years on front end prevention, focusing a good deal of its mental health efforts with young people and families with school aged children. The Building Bridges School Based Mental Health Program County Executive Parisi unveiled in 2013 is now an over $1 million a year effort working directly with young people, their parents, and teachers in nearly five dozen Dane County schools. The 2020 budget adds the $40,000 needed for Building Bridges to be offered year-round in the Monona Grove School District—the latest to join the program.

County Executive Parisi’s 2020 budget proposal also includes $200,000 to bolster mental health services for older populations. These dollars will fund two full-time mental health professionals as part of a pilot project to assist non-Medicaid eligible adult seniors. The staff will work with Senior Focal Point case managers to help keep seniors who experience chronic mental illness living independently. Direct intervention like this can help with food security and other living considerations that may otherwise be affected by the toll severe mental illness takes on daily functioning.

There is also community interest in exploring whether a “Mental Health Court” could better link those who find their way into the criminal justice system with an underlying mental health or behavioral condition with an alternative process—one that is focused on treatment and rehabilitation. This budget includes $25,000 to study the feasibility of creating such a court that could be modeled after other successful diversion programs in Dane County, such as Drug Court and Community Restorative Court.

The County Executive’s full 2020 budget proposal will be introduced October 1.

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