Pennington County is the recipient of a nearly $120-thousand grant to study behavioral health needs in western South Dakota.
Officials say the yearlong study is already underway by the National Council for Behavioral Health.
The grant will allow the group and county to collect data, identify needs and offer suggested solutions for West River counties to better address the issue.
Eric Kurtz is the Helmsley Program Officer in South Dakota, based in Sioux Falls. He says the National Council for Behavioral Health has conducted surveys in like regions to western South Dakota. He says that group just wrapped up a study in eastern Montana, which is similarly isolated in the county.
“They lack services, they lack workforce, they have a high degree of poverty, there are native American communities that are underserved, a large veteran population, addiction” Kurtz says. “Those issues are almost mirrored in this part of the state as well. They’ve conducted this process before, they also have seen unique and innovative models to be able to respond to those issues.”
The Pennington County Commission initially denied an application for the grant. After public backlash one county commissioner reversed his decision.
Once the study is complete, a final report will get sent to stakeholders of the West River Behavioral Health Alliance, which consists of 32 different organizations.
Among that group is the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Kevin Thom says the office is thankful for the Helmsley foundation grant.
He says he looks forward to the report
“Our hope with the grant is that it provides us with a road map of where we need to go,” Thom says. “We don’t need another grant that sits on a shelf and collects dust. We need something that tells us how many beds we need in South Dakota, what type of beds is that, short term, intermediate, long term? And what type of services are needed? Give us a road map of where we need to go.”
Thom says law enforcement has become the largest mental health provider in the country and that currently West River doesn’t have enough resources to handle behavioral health needs. State lawmakers are expected to address the issue during the upcoming session.