The Greensboro Recommended Budget FY 2019-2020 includes $500,000 to start a new department to offer a service never before offered by the City of Greensboro.

According to the budget, Greensboro plans to start its own mental health department based off a comment made at a meeting by Councilmember Michelle Kennedy who won the support of Mayor Nancy Vaughan and councilmembers Nancy Hoffmann and Sharon Hightower. Vaughan at a subsequent City Council meeting said that the city would begin providing mental health services, but no vote was ever taken, nor was the issue ever the subject of a City Council work session or public discussion of how this mental health service would operate.

But the result of those brief comments at City Council meetings is $500,000 in the budget to start providing mental health services which based on a page and a half memo from Maria Hicks-Few, Greensboro’s chief equity and inclusion officer to City Manager David Parrish dated Friday, May 24, 2019, has had little research done to provide justification for the new expense or guidance on how the city would go about starting a mental health department.

City Councilmember Justin Outling said he assumed the memo was in response to a request for more information he made to Parrish earlier last week.  Outling said this was a topic that he planned to bring up at the City Council work session on the budget at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, May 29.  Council work sessions are open to the public, but the public is not invited to speak.

Outling said, “This is a substantial new undertaking.  We are expanding city services to provide mental health services which is categorically a county function.”

Outling added, “It’s not to say that this is something we shouldn’t be doing. But I have a lot of questions.  For instance $500,000 appears to be an insufficient amount of money to accomplish the task that it sets out to accomplish and we are already considering a tax increase.”

He said, “I haven’t seen a thorough evaluation of the program.  I don’t want to start a program just to see it fail or sputter in the first years.”

Outling said he had seen nothing about the success of other cities that had tried similar programs, or the cost.  He also said from the limited information he had, that it didn’t appear Guilford County was asked if this was a program it would be interested in providing.

According to the May 24 memo, Greensboro will start its program based on one run by Mecklenburg County. Note it is not the City of Charlotte that runs the program in Charlotte but Mecklenburg County.  Guilford County like Mecklenburg County provides mental health services for the county.

As Outling said there is no note in the memo about requesting Guilford County which already provides mental health services, to investigate providing a crisis mental health response team.  It certainly would appear that Guilford County would be far more well suited to providing crisis mental health care, than Greensboro.

Two bullet points in the short memo are pretty good proof, it was done in a hurry.   The memo reads:

“Two-Four staff (At least one must be fully licensed)

“There must be a 24/7 on call rotation process.”

It’s not a difficult equation.  To 24/7 equals 168 hours.  The minimum to cover 168 hours a week with employees working a 40 hour week is 4.2. With two people they would have to work 12 hours on 12 hours off seven days a week with no time off.

Plus it doesn’t seem realistic to have only one person on call on Friday and Saturday nights when the police are more likely to encounter people having mental health issues.

What is the one mental health crisis team person going to do when they get three calls for mental health emergencies all at once.

This City Council spent six months, hired an outside law firm and held five public hearings before passing a new panhandling ordinance.  Now it appears the same City Council plans to launch an entirely new department, if the memo is accurate, based on a few conversations with a few people in the field, including at least one conversation with Sandhills Center the mental health provider for Guilford County.  But the substance of that conversation is unknown.  Was the possibility of Sandhills starting such a program for Guilford County even discussed?  It would not appear so, because that was not the question being pursued by Hicks-Few according to her short memo.