2-10 Sheriff's Column

By Sheriff Steve Lawson
Posted 2/10/19

Mental Health Transportation

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2-10 Sheriff's Column

Posted

Mental health transportation

The issue of mental health transportation has been a topic of discussion lately as we attempt to address this important service offered by the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office.

State law requires that mental health patients be transported to an approved mental health facility in the state of Tennessee to receive proper medical care. When this determination is made by a healthcare professional, the BCSO is charged with the transportation of these individuals. Their destination could be as close as Moccasin Bend in Chattanooga, or as far away as facilities in Memphis.

This presents a couple of significant challenges to our department. Those challenges have come to light in recent discussion among the County Commission’s Law Enforcement Committee.

The first challenge is the increasing cost of providing this mandatory service. Last year in 2018 mental health transportation cost our department $131,278.98. This includes the salary costs, along with mileage associated with these transports. This cost is largely unreimbursed, and so the increase in number of transports has become a challenge. Counties with hospitals inside their borders are largely faced with this challenge, while counties without hospital facilities do not see the affect. State law requires the sheriff of the county there the originating healthcare facility resides is the responsible law enforcement agency.

I recently attended the Winter Conference of the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association. This was a topic of discussion, as we are not the only county facing this issue. The solution will need to come from the legislature, because the mandate is based on State Law. I am eager and willing to work with our legislative delegation to address this growing concern.

The second challenge surrounds the treatment of these patients. In most cases, these are not criminals, yet as a law enforcement agency we are charged with transporting them. How do we transport someone who may be a danger to themselves – and others – in a respectful way, without violating their civil rights? How can this be done in a decent and humane way, while still ensuring the protection of our deputies, the public, and namely the patients. These are questions we are also wrestling with.

It should be noted, that we are not attempting to do away with mental health transportation. These patients deserve the best care and treatment possible. Our concern is the additional unreimbursed costs we are facing as a result of the growing number of cases, as well as proper treatment during the transportation process.

I am hopeful that this issue will be address in the legislative session this year. I stand ready to work with lawmakers in coming up with a solution that helps us deliver the best possible service to our community.

Stay tuned to this evolving issue.

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