The Mental Health & Recovery Board of Portage County voted unanimously to keep its membership at 18 volunteers to ensure better representation for local communities.
The board had the chance to reduce its roster to 14 members with the creation of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services this year but decided against it.
ODHMAS is the consolidation of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services. State law governs the functioning of mental health and recovery boards in Ohio’s counties through a state-level agency and gave counties the option of reducing board seats when the merger occurred.
The MHRB is a Portage County government agency that funds mental health and addiction treatment services for thousands of Portage County residents. It provides the funding for a 24-hour crisis system that handled 41,000 contacts last year for information, referrals, suicide prevention and crisis calls. It also invests in prevention education to reduce addiction and to help children protect themselves from abuse. The board leads initiatives and supports local programs for suicide prevention, law enforcement training and responding when there is a disaster or death in a school, local business or community.
Board member Gene Mills, who lives in Rootstown Township, spoke in favor of the larger membership as a way to continue better governance because it ensures that all areas of the county are represented. “The more I thought about it the more I felt it would limit our outreach to the county if we had fewer members. We need residents in all areas of Portage County to be aware of the Mental Health & Recovery Board,” Mills said.
The MHRB has 11 members who live in cities and six from villages and townships. There is one vacant seat.
New board member Harold Farrier of Suffield Township, who retired from the MHRB staff in 2011, added that some boards across the state opted to reduce membership because they have a difficult time recruiting volunteers. “We’ve never had the problem of filling seats on the board,” he said.
The creation of the single state governing agency eliminated the requirement that the board include a psychiatrist. ODMAHS appoints eight of the local board members. They must include a county resident who has a mental illness; a county resident in long term recovery from addiction; a resident who has a family member with mental illness; a Portage resident who has a family member with an addiction; a county resident who is a mental health professional and resident who works as an addiction treatment services professional.
Portage County Commissioners appoint 10 at-large members to the board. All board members serve four-year terms. For information about the MHRB, go to www.mental-health-recovery.org or call 33-673-1756.