Q&A: Williamson County Commissioner Valerie Covey and mental health care priorities

Williamson County Commissioner Valerie Covey is the point person for mental health initiatives.

Williamson County Commissioner Valerie Covey is the point person for mental health initiatives.

As of 2019, Williamson County has put $500,000 toward inpatient beds at the Georgetown Behavioral Health Institute, which provides emergency services for people experiencing mental health crises.

Commissioner Valerie Covey said county officials and mental health care partners are seeking new and innovative ways to provide treatment while minimizing the cost to local taxpayers.

Q: What role does county government play in mental health care?

I think every county has some responsibility and wants to be a part of this discussion about mental health. I think it’s a very difficult issue to really solve, especially in a county like Williamson. As we’re growing, we have more mental health issues, and we have to address it differently than if we were a small county. Our county doesn’t have a hospital district; therefore, we don’t have a separate tax. So we really have to try to think out of the box, and I think we have in a lot of ways.

Q: What is the Williamson County Behavioral Health Task Force?

[The task force] brings different entities together to discuss a common issue. All too often there are silos of discussion, and that doesn’t usually work well because you’re duplicating services with precious resources. If someone knew what someone else was working on, they could partner together and be successful. [The task force] continually re-evaluates where Williamson County is and what are our resources, gaps and needs are.

Q: Why is it important for the county to care about mental health care?

There are different aspects to that. We are tasked by the state to take care of indigent health care, and if folks that have behavioral health issues are in our jail or in our emergency rooms, then the taxpayer is going to have to pay up to 8% of our budget to take care of it. I also believe that in partnering together with other resources, we can help address the issue of quality of life.

Q: What can residents do to help?

The biggest thing we find is the lack of knowledge. We’re trying to get information out, but it’s a challenge. The citizens can help us by spreading the word or sharing the resources and just having a conversation and not being afraid to talk about mental health. It’s a topic that for so long people have been afraid to talk about or embarrassed to talk about, and I’m here to say we need to talk about it because it’s real.