Victoria resident Sheila Schmidt finally got an appointment with a psychiatrist in Stafford this week, but she wishes she did not have to drive 110 miles.

Schmidt, who was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, tried to schedule an appointment with a Crossroads psychiatrist, but no one would accept her insurance or her money.

"How do you see a professional other than going to Houston or Corpus Christi, which are jam packed?" she asked. "You don't break a leg and have to look for a hospital to get treated."

Schmidt was among a diverse crowd made up of politicians, social workers and even the bishop of the Diocese of Victoria that met Tuesday at the Victoria ISD Conference Center. They discussed what gaps exist in Crossroads' mental health care. Those gaps are often filled by the criminal justice system, which experts have said proves to be more costly in the long run.

The Gulf Bend Center's Lane Johnson moderated the 90-minute discussion. He didn't want to leave people hopeless, trying to fish out from the crowd ideas for improvement instead.

"We have to laugh about this stuff. The only way to not go to bed crying is to laugh about it," Johnson said.

Some of the ideas included creating a mental health court, offering more training to law enforcement or meeting more often to talk about a topic that for years has carried stigma and shame.

In 2014, there were six psychiatrists in the seven-county region, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Johnson said a lot of that has to do with economics. Generally, medical school graduates have the same amount of debt regardless of their specialities, and psychiatry is not a specialty that pays much.

"So why would anyone coming out medical school go into that specialty when they can pick another specialty and pay off their debt?" Johnson asked.

Dr. E. Wayne Goff was unable to place a suicidal patient in the hospital after DeTar Hospital Navarro closed its psych unit when money dried up, for example.

"I tried for a year and a half and finally said, 'I can't practice this way. I'm going to retire,'" Goff said.

And Goff did retire 10 years ago when the system would pay him to see a patient and prescribe him Valium but not to talk to that same patient about his underlying issues.

Still, something pulled Goff to the conference center.

"Here I am - still interested," he said.

Sandra Marie also said she couldn't stay away from the event, which was organized by the Gulf Bend Center and the Advocate, because too much has been happening.

She remembered Sandra Bland's hanging in a Waller County Jail and Victoria police fatally shooting veteran Brandon Lawrence.

Marie interacted with the mentally ill when she held positions in law enforcement and then at Devereux. She, too, has been retired for years.

"I've hung up my shield," she said, "but it hasn't gotten out of my heart."

Rawley McCoy, a local architect, hoped Victoria would become a leader in mental health care. In the early 2000s, he was part of a group that tried to improve the educational attainment level in the region. The Victoria Business and Education Coalition, or VBEC, was created for that purpose. VBEC volunteers now mentor students.

"This can be no different," McCoy said. "I'm telling you with persistence, you can solve all problems."

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Former Environment/Investigations Reporter

Jessica Priest worked for the Victoria Advocate from August 2012-September 2019, first as the courts reporter and then as the environment/investigations reporter. Read her work now at www.jessicapriest.me.

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