Goal to keep mental patients out of local jails

Published 7:27 pm Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Region 8 promised Lincoln County much in the way of new andimproved mental health services, but the single most important featit plans to accomplish is keeping mental patients out ofjail.

Region 8 Executive Director Dave Van said his organization’sprimary service is its Crisis Intervention Team, a two-man squadoperating like a kind of psychiatric ambulance that responds toemergency mental health calls around the clock, all year long. Hesaid team members have clinical backgrounds – a master’s degree isrequired – and can analyze, diagnose and recommend treatment for apatient immediately, eliminating the need to house patients in thecounty jail while a mental commitment hearing is arranged.

“You will never have to hold anyone in jail because of mentalhealth, and we have never held anyone in jail in more than eightyears,” Van told Lincoln County Supervisors Monday.

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Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing said the Lincoln County Jailhouses an average of two to three mental patients per week, and hasdetained as many as five at one time. He said it sometimes takes aslong as one week after a patient is detained to set up thenecessary components of a commitment hearing, including schedulingthe evaluation by two doctors before the hearing actually takesplace.

During that time, all law enforcement can do is quarantine mentalpatients in the jail, Rushing said.

“(Jail) is the only option you have if you have a family member inneed of mental treatment that could be a danger to themselves orsomeone else,” he said. “But they don’t need to be in there. Theyneed to be in a doctor’s hands.”

Van’s crisis teams, however, can perform the evaluationsimmediately when called to a patient’s home, with a best-casescenario of treating the patient there without the need forcommitment. If commitment is necessary, the team can make the callthen and there.

Every Region 8 facility has a handful of psychiatric bedsavailable, but the teams usually have such good luck placingpatients in hospitals that those local beds have rarely beenused.

“Hopefully, no one will ever have to come before (a commitmenthearing) again,” Van said.

Van said Region 8’s crisis services would improve if contracted bythe Mississippi Department of Mental Health to operate theBrookhaven Crisis Intervention Center. The centers were designed toeliminate mental patients’ stays in county jails, but throughvarious legal and operational lapses have ended up missing themission and serving as miniature state hospitals.

“We’re going to operate that exactly how we operate our crisisservices, as an emergency services facility like it was meant tobe,” Van said.