A recent audit from Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner has found that complex procedures and internal deficiencies in the Department of Human Services (DHS) could lead to problems in the facilitation of mental health services in the county.
“I think this audit shows that there are a number of breaks in the process and those breaks could result in residents in need falling through the cracks if they’re not receiving that help that they need in that most critical hour,” Wagner said.
She said tighter controls are needed to ensure that county residents can access needed help and services, especially when it comes involuntary commitments, also known as a “302.” Having somebody involuntarily committed is a complicated process which has multiple steps.
“If any of those are skipped, you can have a person not getting help at that critical moment,” said Wagner, “and I think that call for help is really at a very important, critical time, and if that’s missed, you may never get that opportunity with that person, who desperately needs that help, ever again.”
The audit also includes a look at contracted work with Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic’s re:solve Crisis Network program. It was found that re:solve overbilled DHS $15,604, but that has since been repaid. It also found gaps in paperwork processes, incomplete call logs and insufficient tracking of 302 authorization warrants.
“We have been working with the Department of Human Services so that they do, basically, better dotting their Is and crossing their Ts in terms of their documentation process,” said Wagner.
Overall, Wagner said DHS and re:solve do a good job in providing critical services.
“But when you’re looking in this whole context of how much mental health services have been cut back in the last decade, we need to make sure we’re doing everything in our power to make sure there are no mistakes in the implementation of this process,” she said.
The audit was launched following a meeting with District Attorney Stephen Zappala in May 2013 where they discussed the efficacy of mental health programs. This also followed the March 2012 shooting at Western Psych. Wagner said ensuring timely access to mental health care is critical, and added that when left untreated, mental illness can sometimes lead to violence, addiction, incarceration and more.