Tuesday, the City of St. Louis Department of Health Behavioral Health Bureau began implementing its work following months of evaluations and meetings with more than 100 stakeholders. The process for the bureau started through a partnership between the City of St. Louis and the CDC Foundation, beginning with utilizing seven CDC Foundation employees and now moves forward with the first five Department of Health staff in St. Louis with additional positions open. The Department is prioritizing behavioral health as part of a comprehensive public health approach by working to include a sustainable focus to improve access to mental healthcare and treat substance abuse, specifically opioid abuse, in St. Louis.
“Mental health and substance abuse disorders in our city have been on the rise in recent years,” says Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, Director of Health for the City of St. Louis. “As a public health professional, the numbers are alarming because these two problems can snowball into other concerns. Bold action is the only solution, and we’re looking forward to delivering data-driven solutions in the years to come.”
"Public health is public safety," said Mayor Tishaura O. Jones. "Through the coordinated efforts of the Department of Health and many community partners, the Behavioral Health Bureau's forward-thinking strategy will make our city safer by addressing the root causes of crime and supporting the mental health and substance use needs of St. Louis residents."
An estimated 61.2 million adults in the United States had a diagnosed behavioral health condition in 2019, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen higher rates of anxiety and depression symptoms and more substance use among many adults. The City of St. Louis has the highest rates of emergency room visits due to drug overdose and mental health concerns compared to the rest of the St. Louis region and the state.
“Our city, like any city, faces many challenges,” says Behavioral Health Bureau Chief Dr. Julie Gary. “One of those challenges is statistically high rates of mental health and substance abuse disorders. I’m looking forward to solving these problems with our new bureau team through increased resources dedicated to behavioral health and strong community partnerships.”
The City of St. Louis Department of Health will prioritize behavioral health as part of its comprehensive, equitable public health approach. The new Bureau’s objectives include:
- Create equitable and culturally competent systems-level linkages to care for substance use and overdose prevention.
- Increase the availability, accessibility, and safe use of demographically inclusive qualitative and quantitative substance use data.
- Decrease the stigma of substance use and promote help-seeking behaviors.
As a part of this next phase of the bureau, the following items were developed and will be utilized: a strategic plan, an implementation and sustainability plan, and a preliminary data dashboard on the opioid crisis.
The above objectives will be accomplished through the following:
- Hiring and training additional staff
- Further coalition building and funding to community partners
- A mobile outreach van with a presence at community and healing events
- Narcan distribution
- Linking citizens to appropriate and adequate care
- Training and capacity building for community organizations
Funds for Phase II will come from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS), the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the Health Care Trust Fund within the Department of Health’s FY 24 budget, and a settlement from opioid manufacturers.
Phase I of this project is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award with 100 percent funded by CDC/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by CDC/HHS, or the U.S. Government.