News Article Details

Mental health navigator gets axed; reason unclear

Victoria Advocate - 1/21/2018

Jan. 21--The Gulf Bend Center announced it had hired Tammy Gregory, a peace officer with almost 18 years of experience, during a May 2017 board meeting.

During the meeting, Gulf Bend Executive Director Jeff Tunnell said Gulf Bend was funding her position.

Nicole Way, Gulf Bend's director of behavioral health, said Gregory would help mentally ill inmates who had gone through Gulf Bend's screening and eligibility process follow up after they were released to get services.

Nov. 28, Gulf Bend terminated Gregory, though.

This week, Gulf Bend officials offered a variety of reasons as to why via email.

They would not agree to a phone or in-person interview with the Victoria Advocate.

First, Tunnell said beginning in September, Gregory's position was funded by the Texas Health and Human Services grant that also reimburses the Victoria County Sheriff's Office, the Victoria Police Department and the Jackson County Sheriff's Office for the time of an officer each to respond to mental health- related calls from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.

Tunnell said in November, however, the agency re-evaluated the grant and determined Gregory's position didn't fulfill that grant's purpose and so eliminated it.

Later, Tunnell and Jessica Dodds, who does marketing and public relations for Gulf Bend, said the state agency required Gregory to be a qualified mental health professional. They said since Gregory was not one, she was let go.

Christine Mann, a spokeswoman for the state agency, said neither of Gulf Bend's explanations is accurate, though.

The grant, which gives Gulf Bend $584,173 through Aug. 31, 2018, never covered Gregory's position, she said.

Mann said Gulf Bend tried to amend its grant with the agency to include Gregory's position by reducing funds for another program, but the agency did not agree to that change.

She said the agency never told Gulf Bend that Gregory didn't have the educational requirements because it never set educational requirements for Gregory's position, which Gulf Bend refers to as the "law enforcement navigator."

Some of those Gregory worked with, meanwhile, either didn't know she had been let go or also were confused as to why.

"I was wondering why I hadn't seen her in a while," said Nora Kucera-Brosig, Victoria County's pre-trial services coordinator, who would either email or run into Gregory at the Victoria County jail every workday. "I do feel the position was valuable."

Johnny Krause, the chief deputy at the Calhoun County Sheriff's Office, agreed.

He said it was a shame Gregory wasn't able to work long enough to see whether the number of inmates with mental illness coming into the jails a second time were reduced with her assistance.

"But it was better than nothing," Krause said. "I can tell you that right now, the fact that she was coming in, that someone was coming in to check on these guys was a whole lot better that nothing. Before, basically nothing was happening until a cataclysmic event (such as a suicide or a suicide attempt)."

Krause said it has reverted back to that.

"She was doing a great job," he said.

Gregory has a master peace officer's license, a bachelor's degree and is pursuing a master's degree in interdisciplinary studies. She previously worked as a sergeant for the Calhoun County Sheriff's Office and a deputy for the Refugio County Sheriff's Office.

She said Gulf Bend increased its initial salary offer to her based on this experience.

When the Advocate contacted Gregory, she described some of what she did during her six months working for Gulf Bend. She described helping a man negotiate down the fines he had with a justice of the peace in Jackson County as well as finding out where people could live or go to continue their education upon release.

Records show her Gulf Bend co-workers nominated her for a customer service award twice.

"Yesterday while I completed routine jail screenings, I had two separate inmates comment about how Tammy (they knew her by name) had been so helpful to them," Samantha Zachary, a case manager at Gulf Bend, wrote when nominating Gregory for an award she received on Sept. 29. "One individual stated that he has been told 'no' by everyone he has encountered and Tammy is the only person who has tried to help him. He says everyone has treated him poorly due to his record and that Tammy treats him with dignity and respect."

LE Navigator by Victoria Advocate on Scribd

Gregory said Gulf Bend wasn't being transparent with the community it serves and the community will suffer for it.

"We want the subjects who get out of jail to be law-abiding and productive members of our community. They're going to be released, obviously, without the law enforcement navigator position, but the problem is will they be successful? A lot of people who get out of jail don't have documentation and don't know where to start or where to go," she said.

Gregory's position was created after the Gulf Bend Community Collaborative, formed in 2016 and comprised of members of the law enforcement, medical, nonprofit and faith community, identified this need.

Two million people with mental illness are booked into jail every year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the vast majority of whom are not violent criminals. Once in jail, they don't receive treatment and stay longer than their counterparts without mental illness.

"We know the challenges for this population is housing, income and transportation. We are hoping that we can try again to apply for funding of this position under a different grant sometime this summer," Tunnell said.

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(c)2018 Victoria Advocate (Victoria, Texas)

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