Charles Drew Health Center will provide increased mental health services for Douglas County Youth Center detainees under a new contract with the county.

The contract calls for the health center to provide such services as psychiatric evaluations, screenings, treatment and follow-up care to detained youths with substance abuse disorders and other mental or behavioral health conditions. The Douglas County Board approved the contract last week by a 6-0 vote.

It is meant to enable the county to extend and expand a pilot program launched in February. At the time, the Douglas County Board had approved $31,000 to be combined with grant funding to pay for the first six months. The county subsequently approved a contract with University of Nebraska Medical Center Physicians for Dr. Kenneth Zoucha, who specializes in addiction psychiatry, to work at the youth center for a half-day each week.

The contract with Charles Drew doesn’t call for any additional county funding, at least not in its first year. The health center will pay for the services with grants, including from the Sherwood Foundation, said Douglas County Board Chairman Chris Rodgers.

County officials had been trying to negotiate contracts with other service providers, but it was taking too long, Rodgers said. They decided instead to contract with Charles Drew, and let the health center line up the providers.

“This is just a legal mechanism to let the providers work,” Rodgers said. “Instead of doing the multiple contracts, we just did one.”

Zoucha has been working about four hours a week at the Douglas County Youth Center for several months. His presence has sped up the slow pace of completing court-ordered psychiatric evaluations, Rodgers said.

Kenny McMorris, CEO of Charles Drew, said Zoucha will be at the juvenile detention center for about six to eight hours a week. The search continues for a second doctor, a child psychiatrist, to also work there about a half-day a week, McMorris said. Original plans for a Creighton University-CHI Health doctor didn’t materialize.

Licensed mental health practitioners, therapists and a navigator from Charles Drew will also provide services to the detained youths, McMorris said. More services will be made available at Charles Drew for youths after their release. The navigator will work to reduce gaps in treatment between various entities while the youths are detained, in placements or released to their families.

Officials hope that it will lead to shorter stays in detention and better long-term outcomes for youths.

The contract runs from Nov. 1 through Oct. 31, 2020, and automatically will renew for two one-year terms unless it’s terminated. Ideally, Rodgers said, the county will pay for the future years with grants from Sherwood.

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