Last month, the 2018 National Association of Counties Annual Conference and Exposition was held at the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville. During the show, we had a chance to catch up with Michele Engdahl, director of Government Affairs at Thomson Reuters about her impressions of NACo, pressing topics she sees among attendees and more.

Legal Current: Thomson Reuters had had a presence at NACo for some time – how has the show evolved over the years?

Michele Engdahl: When you walk the show floor at NACo, you begin to see that from geomapping to dog catching, counties are becoming more digital. It’s an exciting to see that that this layer of government is looking to technology to help deliver critical solutions to their residents.

At the same time, Thomson Reuters has always been focused on delivering solutions to our customers that marry our people, expertise and technology. And as counties and communities are tasked to deal with rather large-scale issues – like opioid addiction, mental and public health – while balancing tighter budgets, you can start to see why technology is seen as the answer.

LC: To that point, there was a lot of talk at the show about mental health and how government services are impacted by this issue. When you look at the courts, law enforcement, etc., do you see a lot of progress among public officials to address mental health issues?

ME: Mental health is on the mind of every county official in the country. In one session I attended I heard a sheriff say, “Our corrections system is the number one provider of mental health services in the country. And law enforcement personnel are offering care they are not trained to [provide].”

This continues to be an expensive, taxing issue for counties, and these administrators are looking for alternatives to incarceration to adopt strategies to link the mentally ill to the services they need. The public and private must work together on this issue, especially when you consider how counties are managing the data behind mental health.

For example, when you consider the “paper trail” that is created when just one person interacts with law enforcement, the courts, social services, and so on, it’s easy to understand that you are looking at a data problem. How do professionals, and systems, talk to each other to deliver critical services to those in need? This is something Thomson Reuters is interested in helping our customers with.

LC: As you consider how public employees are tasked to do more with less, how can Thomson Reuters help?

ME: Public employees need more time, but they can’t get more hours in a day. So it’s important to give them tools that help them become more efficient. WestlawEdge is a wonderful new solution that will help government attorneys connect with the data they need to do their work faster and more accurately. Our CLEAR investigative platform can help law enforcement act with confidence, much like the winner of this year’s Everyday Heroes award winner. And our Tax solutions can help counties fairly and appropriately assess property values to bring in more revenue for counties.

LC: Looking ahead, what do you expect will be the top issue for attendees next year?

ME: Sadly, opioids will continue to be a top issue. Most counties are overwhelmed by the impact opioid abuse is having on citizens, families and county budgets. I am not sure where the turning point will be on this issue, but we need to work together with the public sector to confront opioid abuse.