Expanded mental health services a priority for Page

County receiving millions of dollars in opioid settlement

St.+Louis+County+Executive+Sam+Page%2C+right%2C+and+his+wife%2C+Jennifer%2C+head+to+the+polls+Tuesday+morning+in+Creve+Coeur+to+vote+for+Page+in+the+Democratic+primary.+Jennifer+Page+was+dressed+in+scrubs+to+head+to+her+job+at+Mercy+Hospital+South.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, right, and his wife, Jennifer, head to the polls Tuesday morning in Creve Coeur to vote for Page in the Democratic primary. Jennifer Page was dressed in scrubs to head to her job at Mercy Hospital South.

By Erin Achenbach, News Editor

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page is pursuing ways to use federal coronavirus relief dollars to address rising mental health needs in the county.

County health officials are on track to see more patients this year who need mental health services than in the last five years Page said in a briefing May 25. 

“The need for mental health services in the county far exceeds capacity. Based on the first quarter of this year the department of public health is on track to see more patients who need mental health services than in the last five years,” Page said. “Until this year, the health department was seeing about 2,300 patients a year for mental health. That number is on pace this year to exceed 3,000 patients.”  

There are two funding sources available to address mental health services, the first being approximately $74 million in unappropriated American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, funds, as well as $45 million from a payout from a joint settlement with opioid manufacturers and distributors. According to Page, 75 percent of respondents to a county survey on how to spend federal relief dollars identified increased access to mental health services as a top priority.  

Page said he will work with the County Council on how to best allocate the money. 

The county offers mental health services at its three clinics in Sunset Hills, Berkley and Pine Lawn, including depression screening, mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, medication assistance treatment and more. Page said the health department prioritizes seeing those on Medicaid and those without health insurance. The health department also provides referrals to partner organizations. 

“There are two areas the department could dramatically expand services if funding were available. The first is mental health case management. … The second area we need to expand is substance use treatment,” Page said. “This includes a dramatic increase in harm reduction programs specifically for alcohol and opioid use.”

According to Page, the county has seen a steady rise in opioid overdose deaths, with 343 opioid-related deaths in the county in 2021, the same as 2020.

Increased funding could be used to secure more Narcan to rescue people experiencing overdoses. All St. Louis County police carry Narcan, as do many municipality departments. Narcan is available free of charge at county health centers. 

May was Mental Health Awareness month and Page also pointed to the May 24 shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, during his briefing as part of the need to expand mental health services. 

“Children’s mental health has been identified as a health crisis by the surgeon general. … Our families are hurting,” Page said. “Our children should be looking forward to a summer of fun … and instead they’re trying to process the unfathomable. A mass shooting at a Texas elementary school.” 

The county’s Children’s Service Fund, which provides resources for youth with mental health needs, also brings in $42 million a year through a quarter-cent sales tax. Page said the fund is working to find ways to increase its services. The fund also provides a youth connection helpline for crisis support for those 19 years and younger, and their families, at 314-819-8802. The helpline is available 24/7.