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Mental Health Task Force moving forward

Patricia Best

BELLEFONTE — In January, former State College Area School District superintendent Patricia Best was named chair of Centre County’s Mental Health Task Force. Best was appointed following the death of former chair Billie Willits, who died on Nov. 20, 2019 following a long battle with cancer.

At Tuesday’s Centre County Board of Commissioners’ meeting, Best gave a presentation regarding her findings after just a few months on the job.

“In my first weeks with the group, it’s very clear that they are focused on what are we doing for those in crisis — who we see in their most vulnerable moments. What are doing for those who love for them and care for them and trust us to help them in their moment of need? And thirdly, what are we doing for those providers who bear the responsibilities and the challenges day after day of providing excellent care in difficult situations?” Best asked. “I’m very pleased to join with my fellow members on the task force … we promise not to let you down.”

The task force was jointly established by Centre County and the borough of State College to recommend endorsements to, and identify strengths of the mental health crisis delivery system in Centre County. Specifically, the task force is tasked to examine the continuum of mental health crisis services, including: Mobile crisis services; delegate crisis services; involuntary commitment warrant procedures, police officers’ role in responding to mental health calls and 302 warrant procedures; emergency department procedures; post-emergency department services.

Best said that a good deal of her time has been spent gathering information for the task force.

“As part of that, the method for doing the initial data gathering has been through a series of in-depth interviews. To date, we have more than 50 of those. The interviews were set up to illicit different information from different areas. It involves people who are both in the delivery — on the frontlines of the delivery system — as well as managing from the back. And also, those who have consumed these services, who have had experiences with these services. So we’re casting a broad net,” Best said.

Best is no stranger to the Centre Region and community service. She worked in the school district for 32 years as a teacher, guidance counselor, director of planning, research and communications, assistant superintendent and, from 1999 until her retirement in 2009, as superintendent at SCASD. After her retirement, she worked with Penn State’s College of Education, developing an online master’s program in teaching leadership. She has been involved and taken on leadership roles with numerous community organizations.

The task force is comprised of 30 individuals from all walks of life — educators, law enforcement, community leaders and the like.

Best is hopeful for more community engagement in the coming months.

“We may do some panels, ask (the public) come in, talk with them and gather some more data at that point. We will have another opportunity for the public to come to us. We envision being able to say, ‘Here’s what we have learned to this point. We are drafting these recommendations. These are one or two or three directions which we think will work and be productive,'” Best said.

According to Best, the task force is very much a work in progress.

“This task force is in itself, neither a sprint nor a marathon. It is, in fact, a relay. It is incumbent upon us to come off the blocks with a strong, steady start, to know the course ahead, establish our pace, to stay in our lane on both straightaways and curves. If we stumble, to right ourselves and go on,” Best said. “And finally, to finish with a strong handoff of the baton to the next team member who will carry it forward to the eventual finish line. We have much more work to do this month and in the coming months, but we are on a steady course to present our results in to you in July.”

In other business Tuesday, the commissioners approved:

— Resolution No. 7 of 2020, authorizing county administrator Margaret N. Gray signatory authority with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation.

— Submission of an application for payment to the Pennsylvania Office of Budget for the Centre County Grange Park Equine Centre project through the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP). Total payment request is $1,210,689 for distribution to the Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair.

The commissioners will meet again at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, March 10 at the Willowbank Building in Bellefonte.

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