Task force to address increase in local behavioral health issues

GDAHA partnering with Montgomery County to develop solutions to address behavioral health.

A task force will be created in Montgomery County to address behavioral health issues that local hospitals and agencies say have risen dramatically in the area since 2019 and caused increased violence in emergency departments.

“The volatility of our patients has increased ten-fold,” CJ Kostecka, associate chief of nursing at Miami Valley Hospital, said. “We are seeing more of our patients coming in very volatile and harming our staff, harming other patients, harming our physicians, and we are looking for advocacy.”

On Tuesday, Montgomery County Commission signed an agreement with the Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association for behavioral health consulting services in an amount not to exceed $150,000 through Dec. 31, 2024.

The first steps for GDAHA moving forward with this task force will be to meet with stakeholder groups, including patient focus groups, and surveying providers. GDAHA’s members include 29 hospitals and health care providers across 11 counties in the Dayton region.

Behavior health cases seen at hospitals and other agencies are defined as drug overdoses, people with suicidal ideations, substance abuse and other mental health problems.



“Our community has faced its fair share of challenges, specifically in the last few years. As we’ve dealt with unprecedented events, we’ve seen an uptick in substance abuse and mental health challenges amongst our residents,” said Haley Carretta, director of the Office of Strategic Initiatives for Montgomery County. She cited the Public Health - Dayton and Montgomery County’s recent health assessment, which shows increasing percentages of individuals in all age groups having serious thoughts of suicide.

The task force will provide GDAHA an opportunity to meet with health care providers, leaders, and community partners on a regular basis to better understand the challenges and needs of the county’s behavioral health system and develop solutions that improve those services, Carretta said.

“The timing of this task force and the work we will do together cannot be overlooked. While we seek a community-wide recovery from COVID-19, it continues to impact the health and well-being of our residents. And while COVID-19 is consistent for every community in Ohio, what separates us are some of the challenges we have endured since 2017,” said Sarah Hackenbracht, GDAHA president and CEO.

In 2017, the area saw some of the highest numbers of accidental drug overdose deaths in the opioid epidemic, with Montgomery County experiencing over 500 deaths. Then in 2019, Dayton dealt with white supremacists from the Ku Klux Klan demonstrating in the downtown, the Memorial Day tornadoes that included 21 tornadoes touching down across the state and causing over $50 million in damage, and then the mass shooting on Aug. 4, 2019 in the Oregon District, which left 10 people dead, including the shooter, and 17 others injured.

“Each of these incidents, in addition to the strain of COVID-19, sets our community apart and has presented challenges that our hospitals see every single day in their emergency departments. Since 2019, hospitals in Montgomery County have see a 26% increase in patient encounters for behavioral health needs in area emergency departments,” Hackenbracht said.

There has also been an additional 8.6% increase in patient encounters for substance abuse, Hackenbracht said, and nearly 20% of patients who receive care at an emergency department for behavioral health of substance abuse needs are treated there two or more times.

“The need of our residents is more pressing than ever, but if we choose to look toward the future with hope and optimism, we can use this opportunity to strengthen the health and well-being and economic opportunity for every person in our region,” Hackenbracht said.



Stephen O’Neal, chief nursing officer at Kettering Health Miamisburg and the Kettering Health Behavioral Medical Center, said Americans have seen an increase in mental health disorders from one in five individuals prior to the pandemic to one in three individuals since the pandemic. Individuals with undiagnosed or untreated mental health disorders may also be facing substance abuse disorders or other chronic conditions, he said.

“Early diagnosis and routine and early treatment helps us to keep patients out of the court systems and into treatment facilities,” O’Neal said.

Beth Esposito, president and CEO of Samaritan Behavioral Health, said they have seen an increased need for their services, but their current resources aren’t meeting those demands.

“We continue to struggle with having enough therapists,” Esposito said. They have also been increasing the number of beds they have available for substance abuse treatment.

Kostecka touched on the volatility providers are seeing at emergency departments as they take in patients dealing with behavioral health issues, saying they have had to adjust their operations to handle volatile patients. Kostecka asked for advocacy for providers, along with help finding solutions to the behavioral health issues individuals are facing.

“We have restructured our inpatient unit, our (emergency department), to accommodate that,” Kostecka said, adding they have also looked at adjusting staff training and education. “It’s ongoing work with our team.”

“This is something that is so needed,” said Debbie Lieberman, president of the Montgomery County Commission.

About the Author