Interact for Health

Q&A: Tracy Plouck, director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services

(May 23rd, 2016)

Tracy Plouck is the director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. The department aims to provide treatment to individuals with substance use disorders and mental health conditions and help support related programs. Plouck spoke with Interact for Health to discuss the successes and lessons learned from her time with the department.

Interact for Health: Could you explain more about the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and its goals?

Tracy Plouck: We are a provider of services in both mental health and addiction. We provide direct treatment through our psychiatric hospitals and through the state prisons. We also in some places run outpatient clinics and staff some housing for individuals with serious and persistent mental [health conditions]. Secondly, we are a funder of services. Our department is appropriated by funds from the Ohio general assembly with authorization from the governor, and we provide subsidies to boards in the state. We also do some direct funding of programs and projects throughout Ohio. The third leg of the stool, as I like to think of it, is a regulatory leg, and we actually license and certify the treatment community around the state as well as prevention specialists.

Interact for Health: What accomplishments of the department are you most proud of?

Plouck: I've been really pleased that in the last five years, we've been able to make significant inroads for some housing options that previously hadn't been available for certain types of residents. For example, individuals who are in early recovery from addiction, now have the opportunity ... to have access to about 1,000 units of housing in safe and sober environments that hadn't existed previously. Likewise we've been able to assist more than 1,000 individuals with serious mental illnesses move from nursing facilities into less restrictive community environments. There has been a longstanding challenge in Ohio where people who were experiencing mental [health illnesses] ended up in nursing homes but really didn't need the nursing facility level of care.

Interact for Health: Could you tell a brief story that illustrates the effect of your project in the community?

Plouck: Back in 2014, I attended a program at a residential treatment center for women who are in very early recovery from addiction. A young woman spoke there about her experiences. Probably a little over a year later, I was out in western Ohio and heard the same woman speak. But now she was back home, she had regained custody of her child and she was doing well. And it was such a terrific experience to be able to see that outside of the bureaucracy in which we work every day, people are making progress as a result of some of the funding and partnerships that we're a part of at the state level.

Interact for Health: What lessons have you learned?

Plouck: It has become acutely evident to me that every community in Ohio is different. Every community has different politics, different resources and different philosophies as it relates to partnering across the system. So as a result, there really is no one size fits all when you're thinking about programming for mental health and addiction. Everything has some sort of local nuance that you really have to try to navigate in order to achieve the optimal outcome.