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County adds mental health services for jail

Mike Genet

Just as many nationwide have realized the need for greater mental health services, the same especially holds true for inmates in corrections facilities, Diana Turner said

Turner, Jackson County’s director of corrections, says the contract approved this week by the County Legislature is an “important step,” as the county will now have mental health services for inmates under permanent contract for the first time.

The contract with Advanced Correctional Healthcare, based in Peoria, Illinois, is for $306,000 for this year, with a 12-month option.

“It’s a critical and crucial need for our population,” Turner said. “We have an obligation to provide these services to our inmate population, an obligation to protect them from themselves and others.

“This reduces the county’s liability measure.”

If the appropriate inmates are not treated, Turner said, they can develop anxieties and possibly act out against staff, fellow inmates or themselves.

Advanced Correctional bills itself as the “largest county health care provider to just jails” in the United States, and Turner said they operate in 675 facilities around the country.

Turner said Advanced Correctional will have, on site, a psychiatrist four hours a week, a medication prescriber eight hours a week and – most importantly, she said, “Where the rubber meets the road” – two mental health professionals overlapping for a total of 80 hours per week, seven days a week.

Such professionals can determine if an inmate should be on suicide precautions, Turner said, and on weekends the jail gets backed up with new inmates needing evaluation. Sometimes, an inmate presents as possibly suicidal simply for isolation to help themselves get acclimated to the jail.

“We tend to stack them up like cordwood on weekends,” she said.

The county had a temporary contract with Advanced Correctional for a couple months – a “Band-aid,” as Turner called it – until a permanent contract could be in place. Before that Truman Medical Centers provided mental health services on an informal basis, paid for out of the county’s mental health fund levy. The funds for the 2020 contract will come from the county’s undesignated health fund balance, but County Administrator Troy Schulte said he will recommend the Department of Corrections apply for such future funds from the mental health levy.