Prison, highway patrols highlight need for mental health services | News
TRAVERSE CITY – Talk to any law enforcement officer in the Grand Traverse area and whether they work in corrections or in the field, they will all say the same thing: the area needs a establishment for people in mental health crisis.
A crisis stabilization unit would divert people from the county jail, where nearly half of those housed on any given day struggle with mental illness. The facility envisioned for the area would also include a residential unit for those in need and a mobile unit that could travel to where a person is in crisis.
Statistics from the Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Office show that in 2021, there were 209 crisis calls from people in need of help or their families, and 288 calls from suicidal people. The calls were equivalent to 1,023 hours of field assistants working with someone in crisis.
In 2020, there were 155 crisis calls and 276 suicide calls equivalent to 700 hours of work; in 2019, there were 130 crisis calls and 348 suicide calls totaling 858 hours.
Captain Chris Clark said about five years ago a policy was developed to better help those in need. Law enforcement officers have all received training in crisis intervention. They are now undergoing Mental Health First Aid training, which teaches them to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders and to provide initial help and support.
“It’s an ongoing process for us, finding effective ways to assess someone in a mental health crisis,” Clark said.
It has been a year since a contract with Northern Lakes Community Mental Health to provide services to inmates at Grand Traverse County Jail was not renewed. The $163,000 contract paid for two full-time prison staff – a behavioral health specialist and a peer support specialist, but a study commissioned by the prison more than a year ago found that services were not reaching enough inmates.
A request for proposals for a new supplier was sent out in August, with bids due October 1. Four offers were received, but because the prison contract for medical services expires on February 28, officials decided not to choose one company, but to issue an RFP for one company to provide both medical services and mental health, said prison administrator Chris Barsheff.
The prison has psychiatric services provided by Wellpath and crisis intervention services provided by CMH. Barsheff said the prison is looking for a company to fill the gaps, providing assessments and counseling for those who need help but are not in crisis. The company would also provide a psychiatrist and possibly crisis services, he said.
That RFP was released in December, and proposals from Wellpath and Advanced Correctional Healthcare, an Illinois-based company, opened on Monday. Sheriff Tom Bensley said he hopes to have a recommendation soon for county council to approve.
Bensley also introduced a proposal during the budget process that would have created a health services administrator position for medical and mental health services in the prison. The county budget was approved in December without the post.
This approved budget for 2022 includes $196,000 for mental health services at the prison.