The Union Recorder

February 1, 2013

County jail forced to act as mental health institution

From staff reports
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — Based on Baldwin County Jail population statistics over the last three years, 20 percent had a mental health diagnosis. 

Yearly medication costs are near $87,000 not to mention typical individual transports for inpatient care averaging 462 and 318 total mental health clinic visits since 2010.

Mental health is a mandatory service county governments must provide.

People discharged from the Central State Hospital closures didn’t go far. Some individuals not under the proper treatment or medication schedules commit petty crimes. They end up incarcerated. 

Mentally ill go into the general population classified by offense unless segregated for some significant cases, according to jail administrator Capt. Jeff Petty.

Staff is jail certified for correctional issues not to handle the extra demands these individuals require. 

Nurses do their best to monitor and administer medications. An element of that 20 percent won’t take those meds.

County jail health services administrator Beth Eubanks said most of the mentally ill should be in clinical care. The Powell Building at Central State was the place for these folks.

When a person goes into crisis mode, finding a clinical bed could take several days. Long treatment delays worsen the prognosis.

Petty’s armed transport staff grew from one to five the last three years. Three are assigned solely to mental health. 

County officers handle a load of physician-ordered transports. Trips range from Macon, Dublin, Savannah and Gainesville usually burning up a workday.

Eubanks said River Edge Behavioral Health Center is the jail’s best friend. River Edge provides non-violent individual transport within 50 miles and has Georgia’s first Crisis Service Center (CSC) open all day everyday.

Baldwin’s CSC provides psychiatric and counseling assessment, support and referral services by licensed professionals focused on quick stabilization. If the person still indicates a risk to self or others, the center links to alternative hospital services in line with the individual’s medical coverage.

The mental health receiving facility is Augusta’s East Central Regional Hospital. River Edge Baldwin’s program manager Jean Boone said patients referred to private hospitals often get denied because these medical facilities don’t want someone with legal charges.

That group should go to East Central, but the Augusta hospital has 90 beds to cover 33 counties. Georgia’s hospital system shrank, while deinstitutionalization demands multiplied.

Eubanks said those mental health cases leave jail for a medical setting as a last resort. If there is no place to go during mental crisis, isolation becomes the only doable but regrettable answer.

The current state backed mental hospital closings drop the costs down to county. Petty sees the jail morphing into a catch all for every community issue.

The CSC gives the county jail a small break. River Edge helps treat individuals struggling alone to break the incarceration trend by providing complete treatment.

River Edge shines as one of the states 26 community service boards covering seven surrounding counties. Assertive Community Treatment through Baldwin’s Adult Treatment Court Collaborative currently dispenses 82 people proper treatment and resources to get out of the legal system.

Milledgeville has a great resource, but it can’t meet the entire mental health obligation. Georgia’s present community centers and homes can’t either.

Massee said the county law enforcement center must adapt to handle mental issues because the state won’t step back up to the plate.


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