Gulf Bend needs continued community support

By the Advocate Editorial Board
Aug. 12, 2017 at 3:12 p.m.

Gulf Bend's reputation has had an unnecessary cloud cast over it as the result of the recent Office of Inspector General and the District Attorney's Office investigation of possible mishandling of grant funds.

The agency said all along that the money, almost $297,000 from an unused grant for the now defunct emergency observation unit, was accounted for, but the investigators wouldn't hear it.

A year after the unit closed, the state finally asked for the money back, and Gulf Bend sent it back.

The investigation is now over.

But in the meantime, the mental health agency has had to divert its attention from helping people who seriously need help to instead dealing with this investigation.

In the center's 47 years of operation, it has built a solid reputation across the state as a strong advocate for people with serious and persistent mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression, as well as those with developmental disabilities.

Now that the investigation is closed, Gulf Bend will have to add another mission to its crowded agenda - damage control. It will have to spend time reminding the public of its mission and the good it has done during the past almost five decades.

It is important that the public remembers the successes the center has had and continues to support it with kind words, referring friends in need of their services, and financial aid.

During the years, it has operated group homes, which have more recently transitioned to an apartment community that helps residents learn to live on their own.

Most recently, the center and board have worked to divert people with mental illness from the criminal justice system. Earlier this year, they testified before the Legislature and were successful in getting funding for a community collaborative to help address this goal.

The center also recently received a state grant to fund mental health officers whose primary goal is to get people with mental illness the help they need, without taking them to the county jails. This effort has law enforcement support, with agencies in at least two counties participating already.

It also received a grant to help purchase a new electronic health record system that will improve patient care and privacy. But they still need more money to completely pay for the system and are seeking more outside funding from the public and foundations.

Gulf Bend cares about the growing number of people it serves, but to continue to be able to help its clients, it must have the support of the community.

Every public agency needs to be scrutinized when spending public dollars. Gulf Bend is no different.

But it has a proven track record of 47 years that should not be tarnished by an incomplete investigation. The OIG investigation and DA filing revealed no substantive concerns.

The agency has shown that, even with a cloud of doubt hanging over its head, it did not stop working for its clients. This speaks volumes for the integrity of Gulf Bend.

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.



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