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Hays County’s new Mental Health Court aims to promote wellness and recovery

One of Hays County’s newest judicial offerings is our Mental Health Court (MHC). Court staff provided an overview of the process.

The MHC is a 12-month, three-phased, rehabilitative treatment/specialty court focused on serving individuals with mental health, substance abuse, or intellectual developmental disabilities who are facing pending legal charges.

According to Mental Health Court Administrator Kaimi Mattila, the MHC provides a structured link between treatment, rehabilitation, social support services, and the criminal justice system to promote self-sufficiency, accountability, holistic wellness, empowerment, and successful recovery.

The MHC is fairly new to Hays County; it started in the summer of 2022 when Mattila was hired.

“Last fall was dedicated to creating a handbook and tools for the Mental Health Court and really creating a base of the program to grow it from the ground up,” she said. “I’m really excited to be at the beginning of this program and see where it will go.”

The rest of the team behind the Mental Health court includes County Court at Law Judge Elaine Brown and Lisa Welch, the Mental Health Court Case Worker. The Hill Country Care Coordinator is Mario Salazar.

The criteria to enter the program includes being a Hays County resident at least age 17 and diagnosed with a mental health disorder.

The MHC first receives a referral that can be from a family member, court official, or attorney.

After referral, the MHC will go through the process of determining if the potential client is a good fit for the program and work with the MHC team, Hill Country, and Well Path to begin screenings, develop a treatment plan and solve logistics of the candidate entering the program.

As the Mental Health Court Administrator, Mattila manages dockets and staff, represents MHC, coordinates with her team, and engages in community outreach to find solutions for mental health and justice system overlap.

“Setting contracts with providers and entities wanting to work with the Mental Health Court is an important piece of what I do,” she said. “I aim to set up partnerships with different organizations in the community to fill in those gaps like costs for counseling for our clients.”

Mental Health Court Case Worker Lisa Welch is Mattila’s right hand in this process. Welch provides administrative support to Mattila, case management support to participants, is a liaison for participants and treatment providers, performs jail and initial screenings and conducts attorney outreach.

The program includes three stages over a 12-month period. The first stage is clinical stabilization, where clients begin taking the right medication if prescribed, attending counseling, and receiving case management. The second stage is pro-social habilitation and rehabilitation skills, where clients continue stabilization with additional goals like sobriety support, employment, education, and social activities or volunteering.

The final stage is adaptive habilitation and continuum of care, where participants maintain their progress and continue using the good habits they learned in the program.

The process for candidates can be time-consuming and requires a lot of effort.

Welch said, “We feel we enjoy coming to work and talking to participants. We have such cool jobs, and it is the best thing that is in existence because we have clients that are doing well right now.”

The MHC looks forward to its first two individuals graduating in August 2023. They will then serve as the first peer mentors in the program.

Hays County