Youths in Douglas County detention would more quickly undergo psychiatric assessments and receive more ongoing mental health care under a pilot program that’s about to launch.

The Douglas County Board voted Tuesday to allocate $31,000 for the Behavioral Health Screening and Assessment Pilot Program at the Douglas County Youth Center. The vote was unanimous.

The county is partnering with the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Creighton University and Charles Drew Health Center on the effort. Two doctors — one a child psychiatrist, the other a specialist in addiction and mental health — will work at the county’s juvenile detention center for a half-day each week. Additional people will help connect youths and their families, if needed, to ongoing care in the community after the youths are released from detention.

Brad Alexander, superintendent of the juvenile justice center, said it could shorten the amount of time that youths spend in detention and reduce the likelihood that they will be arrested and detained again. It could do that, he said, by speeding up the process of their receiving an evaluation and undergoing subsequent court hearings for placement, and by providing more mental health care after their release.

Currently, the youth center has a psychologist and licensed mental health practitioners on-site, but no psychiatrist. Often youths have to wait a long time to see a psychiatrist because of a shortage of doctors in that field.

Dr. Howard Liu, chair of the UNMC psychiatry department, said having the doctors at the youth center should lead to treatment beginning sooner for mental illness and substance abuse. And the navigators and partnerships will create “a warm handoff” to ongoing care at the community, including at Charles Drew.

“It’s really that coordination of care,” Liu said.

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Kenny McMorris, CEO of Charles Drew, noted that the health center, based in north Omaha, also provides primary care and can “treat the whole family.”

The pilot program will run for six months. Board Chairman Chris Rodgers said private and state funding also will support it. The board voted unanimously to contribute county money to it. Board member Mike Boyle called the vote “the most important thing” the board would do in its meeting Tuesday.

“The children who come to us and are in the youth center have very significant problems,” Boyle said.

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Chris Burbach covers the Douglas County Board, Planning Board and other local government bodies, as well as local neighborhood issues. Follow him on Twitter @chrisburbach. Phone: 402-444-1057.

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