ELKO – Gov. Steve Sisolak made a planned visit to Vitality Integrated Programs in Elko on Feb. 1 to elaborate on how his executive budget would help rural areas.
In his State of the State address, Sisolak proposed a two-year budget of 8.8 billion dollars without raising taxes. His bid to improve mental health care is bundled into the plan with a hope to increase facilities throughout the state.
Sisolak said mental health is one of the building blocks of his administration.
“It is something that faces every single family in our state at one level or another. It impacts people in such a major way,” he said.
He noted that there are not enough trained professionals in the state, and that after Oct. 1 that fact became even more evident.
“PST is real, and people understand it a lot more than they did a year and a half ago and they are willing to commit resources to it,” Sisolak said.
Vitality opened its new certified community behavioral health clinic in July. The facility treats mental health issues, substance abuse and primary medical care.
“You don’t know how excited this whole staff was that you would take the time to come and visit us out here,” Vitality CEO Ester Quilici said.
Quilici contrasted the differences among rural, northeastern Nevada and metropolitan Las Vegas.
“We have to recruit from out of state, and we had to pay high dollar to get the professionals to come here. We serve here at any one time over 600 people on our caseload,” Quilici said.
“What unique obstacles are here because you are so rural?” Sisolak asked. “What do you do when you have hundreds of miles for people to travel? How have you overcome that? Is it mobile crisis intervention? Are you going out there as opposed to bringing patients in? ”
“All of the above,” Quilici responded. “If we can’t do things face to face we do tele-med, we do tele-mental health and we do tele-health. We used to be hampered here. We couldn’t get any training to come in because we are rural frontier. We lost our psych nurse practitioner, so now we use our clinicians out of Carson City. We are a complete behavioral health system.”
“One of the challenges people [trained professionals] are facing is getting licenses,” said Amber Donnelli, Great Basin College health sciences and human services dean and vice chair for Vitality. “It takes months to get licensing.”
With the nursing program, she said graduates can get their licensing in three days.
Where is the obstacle in the licensing?” Sisolak said. “Is it at the state level.”
“It took me six months. The problem is at the state level,” licensed clinical professional counselor David McCormick said. “I think it’s the process that the board is going through. It just takes an extremely long time. The process is also extremely convoluted.”
Sisolak tried to pick apart the specifics of the problem and had his assistant make a note about checking into the issue.
“I want to know where the problem is so I can fix it,” he said.
“People are dying because they need us,” Quilici said.
Elko Police Chief Capt. Ty Trouten added some insight.
“Most of our crime is related to substance abuse issues, whether it’s the child molestations that occur under the influence or the theft to support the habits and the addiction,” he said. “What I am concerned about is that out here for us we have very limited options. This place [Vitality] has been a Godsend for us, but it’s recent. For somebody who is in crisis and cannot be stabilized, we have only the hospital or jail if there is a crime. Neither one is satisfactory for treating the core issue. When we have patients who need inpatient treatment, sometimes we have to transport them to Reno. If a bed is available, and it takes five hours to get them down there, they can turn them around because in the meantime a person in Washoe County has claimed that bed.”
When Sisolak asked about detox treatment, Trouten told him the Vitality Center has the capability to detox but the jail does not have a wet bed facility.
Talk then turned to the high rate of suicide in Elko County and the need for more officer training in areas of mental health.
“In one week alone here Governor we had eight suicides in Elko,” Quilici pointed out. “That’s just one week. That wasn’t the whole month.”
Trouten pointed to the fact that there is no known demographic but factors such as shift work, the breakdown of family structure and the 24-hour lifestyle contribute to the problem.
“You are a big part of Nevada,” Sisolak said. “You deserve and need representation and until that occurs, you’re not going to get what should be brought into this community. I am committed that my administration will take you seriously. What you do is God’s work. You are helping the people that are the most vulnerable that need help the most.”
“I am committed that my administration will take you seriously. What you do is God’s work. You are helping the people that are the most vulnerable that need help the most.” Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak