The Ellis County Task Team on Mental Health and Substance Abuse met Wednesday, with participants updated on several topics of interest.

Hope Clinic executive director Mackie Owens reported that the North Texas Behavioral Authority has hired Alexander Smith as its new executive director.

NTBHA is the local authority for Collin, Dallas, Ellis, Hunt, Kaufman, Navarro and Rockwall counties. It was created by the commissioners courts in those counties to oversee the managed behavioral (mental health and chemical dependency) healthcare service delivery system that serves people eligible for Medicaid and or public behavioral health funds in the NorthSTAR Region.

Smith has extensive experience in health care administration and will address the Ellis County Commissioners Court at its Jan. 26 meeting, she said.

“He is very interested in making sure that rural counties get the services they need,” Owens said, adding, “If we want more services here, we have to make our needs known.”

The discussion indicated that much of the funding for mental health services in this region is put into Dallas County because of its sheer size and population. It also was noted that Collin County was recently successful in asserting its needs and pushing for more services and facilities.

“It’s important in Ellis County that we have access (to mental health services),” meeting facilitator Lionel “Waldo” DeCuir said. “We’re not interested in getting everything, but we are interested in getting our fair share.”

Owens said Hope Clinic is conducting its own countywide needs assessment relating to medical, transportation, mental health and other areas of concern – and the results will be utilized by the clinic as it works toward designation as a Medicare Rural Health Clinic/Federally Qualified Health Center.

The assessment is under way, she said, noting it is being coordinated by Kelly Echard for the clinic.

DeCuir said he recently met with Sheriff Johnny Brown and is optimistic a cooperative relationship can be developed about the handling of the mentally ill at the county jail and also with officer training.

“We want a really close, good relationship with our sheriff’s office,” DeCuir said. “It’s good to have Sheriff Brown in there who wants to work with us.”

A committee is being formed that will work with the sheriff to hopefully achieve several goals, including a jail diversion program for the mentally ill, better notifications to doctors and caseworkers when one of their patients or clients is jailed and also in-depth training for law enforcement personnel so they can better handle situations involving a person with mental illness.

Vivian Durham, owner of Saving Grace Residential Services, discussed her Ennis facility, which provides housing and other services at a reasonable fee for those with a mental illness. The majority of her clients are Adapt referrals and Medicaid recipients, but private pay also is accepted, she said.

“Saving Grace is a place where people with mental illness can stay,” said Durham, who said her interest in the field grew after her experiences with a sister who had a mental health diagnosis.

Saving Grace is located in a residential home and provides 24-hour staff on site, transportation, outings, life-skill training and monthly family nights. Medications are monitored and rules are enforced at the facility, which has a zero-tolerance stance toward drugs and alcohol, Durham said.

The co-ed facility can house up to seven people, with Durham reporting two openings at this time.

“I think it’s a much needed resource,” DeCuir said. “I hope you’re growing and getting more individuals staying with you.”

The task team meets at noon the third Wednesday of each month at Counseling Center of Ellis County, 6350 Interstate 35E North. Those interested in mental health issues are encouraged to attend.

On the Internet:

North Texas Behavioral Health Authority –

Saving Grace Residential Services – e-mail