• March 31, 2020

Viral photo upsets Odessa mother - Odessa American: Local News

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Viral photo upsets Odessa mother

Dealing with mental illness difficult on patient, family

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  • Overcoming Mental Health Hurdles

    Austin Brindle, his mother Shara Wellborn, and their dog Bambi, stand together for a family portrait at Sherwood Park. Austin was the subject of a viral Facebook photo during a mental health episode he suffered in West Odessa during a lapse of medications he required.

Posted: Sunday, January 26, 2020 4:00 am

On Jan. 18, Austin Brindle and his mother, Shara Wellborn, walked their dog, Bambi at Sherwood Park. Wellborn said she found the stray running around Flamingo Ave., in West Odessa on Christmas day last year.

When she saw the dog, she opened her car door and she jumped in and started eating French fries that were left on the floorboard. When she got home, the dog ate a whole packet of bologna.

“She was skin and bones. You could see her ribs and backbone,” Wellborn said.

The two walked the dog that now boasts a full coat. No longer skin and bones.

Austin wears a yellow Baylor sweatshirt. He has a tattoo on his neck, a treble clef with wings. As a boy his mother said he played guitar for his middle school band and for his church.

Wellborn said Bambi and Austin were together Jan. 8 when sheriff deputies put them in the patrol unit and when she drove to pick them up. Bambi didn’t want to get out of the patrol vehicle before him.

“She didn’t want to leave him,” she said.

That day is not just on Wellborn’s mind because her son and his faithful dog Bambi were picked up by deputies.

She’s well aware of the photo that has garnered a lot of social media attention in West Texas.

The photo of Austin in West Odessa gained attention on social media. It shows a naked Austin on the side of the road in West Odessa with has his arms crossed and Bambi sitting by his side. Ector County Sheriff’s Office deputies stand in front of him with mesquite trees in the background and the backdrop of a blue sky.

On the afternoon of Jan. 8 Austin Brindle left his mother’s trailer in West Odessa and started running.

When asked where he was going, he spoke quietly and answered,

“I was trying to run back in time. I felt like I needed to take my clothes off to do that for some reason.” He ran naked with Bambi, his dark brown Doberman. He stopped running when Sheriff’s deputies arrived.

Deputies put Brindle into the back of the car with his dog and called a Sheriff’s department mental health officer to evaluate him before calling his mother. Wellborn left one of her two jobs and drove to pick him up.

ECSO mental health investigators do on scene mental checks to determine whether a person is harmful to others or to themselves. After the scene checks, those deputies work with area care facilities to determine where to send those in crisis situations.

Deputy Sheriff Gary Brumley has been a mental health investigator for 13 years. He’s one of four members of the crisis response unit for ECSO. Brumley said if deputies get a call about someone who is suicidal or has a mental impairment, “They will call us out to come evaluate them to see whether or not they are a substantial risk to themselves.” From there Brumley said, it depends. They may leave someone at home with instructions to follow up as an outpatient if they have their own doctor.

“We get a little more training in what to look for and dealing with people with schizophrenia, Bipolar, and major depression,” Brumley said.

In Brindle’s case, the officer told Brindle’s mother to take him to Oceans Behavioral Hospital Permian Basin in Midland. Brindle spent his 24th birthday being treated in that facility.

ECSO spokesperson Sgt. Gary Duesler said during his 30 years with the sheriff’s department he can’t say how many naked people he’s picked up. Duesler detailed that sometimes people are intoxicated, or on drugs or both. He said it is part of his job.

In this specific case, Brindle needed his medication, his mother said.

Wellborn said this wasn’t the first time Brindle had an issue or had been to a mental health facility. She said he started showing symptoms a little over a year ago and she’s had to pick him up two other times after he’d acted out in a psychotic manner.

ECSO reports show Brindle has been picked up three different times before the incident on public intoxication charges. But this was the first time his episode had been this bad and it was because he ran out of his medication. Not only was he in a mental health crisis but the family also has to deal with him being depicted as a joke because of the photo.

“He was embarrassed that day regardless,” Wellborn said about the photo hitting Facebook and other social media sites as well as the comments made on the photo.

“They don’t have to be so hateful and they don’t know what’s really going on or what the truth is. The adults should know better than to put pictures out there and make those kinds of comments.”

“I just want people to know that it wasn’t his fault,” Wellborn said. “It wasn’t anything he could help.”

In late November of 2019 Brindle was sent to Oceans where he was diagnosed for the second time with schizophrenia. He was released with a variety of prescriptions with directions to go to PermiaCare for an evaluation the next business day. Oceans Financial counselor Deneshia Rollie said, “Usually when a patient discharges, we set them up with a follow up appointment with an outside psychiatrist.”

“But if they’re new to the services, they’ll have to go through an intake process.”

The next business day after he was released from Oceans, Brindle saw three different people for an intake screening, and was scheduled for an appointment to meet a psychiatrist in February.

“I didn’t realize that he only had a 30-day supply and that his appointment to see the psychiatrist was more than 30 days,” she said. She also said that while he’d already been diagnosed multiple times, she didn’t know that he needed an in-facility psychiatric evaluation before a local mental health facility would refill his medication.

“I would like to know why they wouldn’t refill,” Wellborn said. “Especially with them knowing what can happen whenever someone stops taking their medication. When he’s on his medicine, he doesn’t have any problems.”

Todd Luzadder, the director of Mental Health services at PermiaCare said that once an individual is released from Oceans, they can come in as soon as possible and meet with a licensed professional counselor who will do an intake to determine eligibility for services. Then, they will set up an appointment to meet with a PermiaCare psychiatrist.

“The problem,” Luzadder said, “is that we have about a four to five week wait between that intake appointment and the time that they can see our psychiatrist,” During the holidays, the wait time to see a psychiatrist may even be longer.

“I am not funded to fill a medication and pay for it for an individual whose medication was written by a physician who is not within our network,” Luzadder said. To get a prescription from PermiaCare, patients must have a face to face evaluation with an in-house psychiatrist. PermiaCare psychiatrists assess around 2 patients a day while the counselors have around six intake appointments a day. From the beginning of the new year to Jan. 21, PermiaCare admitted 80 new patients.

“We do our God-awful best to make sure people don’t go without meds, but there is simply a shortage of funding in the state of Texas directed at mental health. We’re 49th in the nation in mental health funding,” he said. “We don’t turn anybody away for inability to pay.”

So, although Brindle doesn’t have insurance, if he saw a psychiatrist, PermiaCare would pay for his medication.

“Our biggest challenge is access,” he said. “Through our patient assistance program, in the past year, we’ve done $5 million in free meds through our benefits and eligibility department helping people get patient assistance medication.”

But he added that it is an underfunded system. “Our mission is to promote recovery in individuals and get them to a point in their life where they’re functioning at the right level and doing things they want to do in their life.”

When Wellborn realized her son was going to run out of his medication, she contacted PermiaCare and told them he didn’t have enough to get through the month. She had a member of PermiaCare write a letter that Brindle needed a refill for his medication before his evaluation. Brindle wasn’t able to see the psychiatrist for a refill until February. His prescription from Oceans couldn’t be refilled either.

The family has struggled with mental health for years. When Brindle was 16-years-old, his father committed suicide. He was also diagnosed with a schizophrenic disorder.

“His father was his best friend,” Wellborn said. When Austin was younger, his father taught him how to work on cars and they fixed them up together.

“They were really close.”

Larry Gayle Brindle Jr. killed himself at the age of 36. His obituary describes him as a, “tinkerer” and collector of old glass bottles and sports memorabilia.

“I just wish he was here,” Wellborn said. “He’d have some answers.”

After his most recent release from Oceans, Brindle received another 30-day supply of medications and has scheduled his appointment for February.

“We’ll discuss making sure we don’t have this problem again,” Wellborn said.

“Whether it be lack of communication or lack of funding,” Wellborn said. “This is the result and people should not have to suffer through that. It’s not fair for anybody to start getting straightened out and have to go through a relapse and start back all over again.”