Here is an article from Tennessee’s Maury County that shows the problem associated with transport of mental health patients by sheriff’s officers. This is just in one county, so you do the math when you figure the entire state or the entire US.
Historically, mental health patients have been put into marked cars and transported to psychiatric facilities as if they were criminals. Just because something has always been done one way, does that mean it needs to continue being done that way? Surely we can come up with a better system.
Transport in a marked police car is degrading, stigmatizing, and simply wrong. However, as mental health budgets are being slashed all over the US, the cost of this transport is likely to remain where it is–with the taxpayers. Maybe we need something like a Mental Health Ambulance Service that can bill insurance for transport.
I think we will begin to see more articles just like the one below as time goes on. Let me know what your thoughts are about this topic, won’t you?
Here is an article from The Daily Herald
Officials with the Maury County Sheriff’s Department think someone else should be responsible for transporting the mentally ill to psychiatric hospitals.
Chief Deputy Nathan Johns said deputies spend less time patrolling Maury County because they are required to take mental-health patients from Maury Regional Medical Center to hospitals as far away as Chattanooga and Knoxville.
Johns said there must be a better way of dealing with mental-health issues than putting a patient in the back of a marked squad car for transport.
“It’s almost like it is criminalizing mental health,” he said.
In Tennessee, sheriff’s departments must respond to requests to transport mental-health patients who are deemed to be a threat to themselves or others. These patients are not under arrest nor are they accused of committing a crime.
For the past three weeks, the sheriff’s department has tracked how many times deputies have been summoned to transport a mental-health patient. During that time period, there were 38 mentally ill people at Maury Regional who needed transport. Nine of those patients were not residents of Maury County.
On one evening, a 12-year-old patient needed transportation to Chattanooga, while another patient required transportation to Knoxville. Johns said local taxpayers foot the bill for those trips even if the patients live in a surrounding county.
At the same time, Williamson County deputies also transport many Maury County patients at their county’s expense, officials learned.
Maury County Mayor Jim Bailey said the state has gutted budgets for mental health services and shifted the costs to county governments.
Since July 2008, the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities has shed nearly a quarter of its staff — 672 positions — as a result of state budget cuts. The number of available beds has been reduced from 919 to 672.
Sarah Lingo, a spokeswoman for the department, said deputies have traditionally transported mental-health patents, and that process was not a result of the most recent budget cuts.
In 2009, 177 patients from Maury County were transported to one of Tennessee’s regional mental health institutes, according to records kept by the state. This does not include patients taken to private psychiatric hospitals.
Lingo agreed that using law enforcement to transport the mentally ill might not be the best approach in all cases.
“When you are in a mental-health crisis, being put in the back of a police car could be traumatic,” she said. “It’s something we are looking into.”
The department has launched a pilot program in West Tennessee that would allow physicians to diagnose patients via video conference, which would reduce unnecessary transportation.
Sita Diehl, director of state policy and advocacy for Tennessee’s National Alliance on Mental Illness, said her organization agrees that law enforcement should not be involved in the transportation of the mentally ill. She would prefer that patients be transported in an unmarked car with a trained medical technician.
The commission’s Safety Committee voted to request a meeting with state Rep. Ty Cobb, D-Columbia, and state Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, to obtain more information about laws pertaining to the transportation of the mentally ill.
Story created Oct 07, 2010 – 16:21:35 EDT.
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