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Team on island to assist Mental Health

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by Lannie Walker

Guam - The Department of Mental Health has faced many challenges in recent years, leading to a permanent injunction. But now the agency is receiving guidance that could lead to much needed improvements.

Help for an agency that is tasked with helping those with disabilities and substance abuse conditions is on island in the form of a team from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. Dana Mauch is SAMSA's technical assistance team leader and says any department that receives block grant funds from the agency - like the local Department of Mental Health - is eligible for assistance.

Mauch says Guam requested guidance and the team first visited a year ago, adding, "We are back again really to help Guam to improve the quality and depth and care for persons who have mental health and substance use conditions."

She says they are meeting with staff from Public Health, members of the Judiciary and member of the local government. Today they sat down with senators Dennis Rodriguez, Jr. and Aline Yamashita. Mauch said the discussions were "to really talk with folks about the kinds of initiatives that are needed to expand the services that are needed to expand the range of service that are available to children and adults and their families that have mental health and substance use conditions."

Mental Health continues to remain under a permanent induction having been found to be providing substandard care to patients, improperly treating and misdiagnosing them. But another member of the SAMSA team, Bob Glover, director of the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, says they have made positive changes with in the system.

He told KUAM News, "We were really impressed with the relationships for example with the court systems therapeutic courts are really well ingrained in the service delivery here."

Glover says they are also meeting with consumers at the department. "They have a strong voice with them and their families and we have heard what changes could really improve the system so part of what we are doing is providing that feedback to the department as it looks to what the mental health system should be in the near future," he said.

Glover says they have also discovered challenges such as insufficient community-based housing and difficulties in recruiting and retaining professional staff on island. But another observation by Glover may prove to be a critical element in the Mental Health making some positive changes. "I would say in general we are seeing a very warm concerned a group of people who really what to make a difference in peoples lives here," he said.

The team will continue their rounds throughout the week and provide a compressive report once they return to mainland.

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