News Article Details

County says 'Yes' to ensuring inmates' best mental health

Kilgore News Herald - 10/20/2018

Oct. 20--Gregg County has entered into an agreement to provide better mental health services to jail inmates in an attempt to reduce recidivism.

On Monday, the Longview branch of Community Healthcore proposed an agreement to the commissioners court to provide better mental health services to county inmates using funds granted by the state Health and Human Services Commission as part of a Texas House of Representatives bill. The grant in the amount of $317,142 includes a cash match requirement from the county of $105,714.

"When we initially proposed this House Bill 13, we had identified, I think, over 100 inmates that were routinely coming in and out of Gregg County jail. So the goal of this House Bill 13, in collaboration with Gregg County, is to engage them in services prior to their release from jail and to hope to keep them engaged in those services so that there is not a continued recidivism for them," said Rachel Harrington, adult program manager for Community Healthcore.

Harrington, addressing the court alongside Gregg County Sheriff Maxey Cerliano, added the bill also has a goal of helping inmates find stable housing. Homelessness could lead to a return to jail on charges of criminal trespass or public intoxication, she said..

The health center will attempt to find housing for released inmates through a housing authority or with family placement. It will also provide substance abuse services and links to community resources so that released inmates "do not continue to commit these offenses and return to the jail and utilize our resources here in the jail when they could be better spent elsewhere," Harrington said.

County Judge Bill Stoudt asked if Community Healthcore intended to identify individuals likely to commit such offenses before they were jailed.

"We're identifying them initially in the jail, those who continue to recidivate," Harrington explained. "Once we've identified those, we are going to work with community partners, including Gregg County, to prevent them from coming back to jail. So yes, that's the ultimate goal."

Pct. 3 Commissioner Gary Boyd asked Sheriff Cerliano to explain how many county jail inmates had mental health issues.

"Those that we identify is about 15 to 20 percent, those that actually take meds and get check-ups," Cerliano said.

Harrington added the number of inmates who have ever utilized the mental healthcare system in Texas could be as high as 50 to 75 percent.

She stated the period of state grant funding would last for one year from the date of the agreement but the period had been extended until December 2019 by the state Health and Human Services Department.

Cerliano said the state would require regular progress reports to determine if additional funding would be provided to extend the program into the future.

"That would be our goal, to establish the program, it be effective, affect the number of inmates that return to the jail and then present that to the state in hopes of continued funding," the sheriff said.

"That would be interesting for this court to be kept abreast of it and see how it's working and if it does work, this could be really something special," Stoudt said.

Harrington said Community Healthcore would provide monthly reports as well as quarterly reports with extra information

"Our goal is to reach 150 unduplicated individuals for the year," she said.

Pct. 1 Commissioner Ronnie McKinney asked Harrington who would manage the data and paperwork associated with the program and how the program would ensure released inmates were not moving from one healthcare provider to another to obtain drugs.

"We actually have a system. We work with the pharmacies and the DEA has a system to where if they're getting a controlled substance, there's actually a database that the doctors have to report that to that we're able to access," Harrington said, adding Community Healthcore works closely with other service providers to ensure patients are not obtaining extra drugs.

She also said she and her colleagues will track all data and paperwork for the program in association with Gregg County.

A final question from McKinney focused on who would be responsible for filling out satisfaction surveys for the program. Harrington replied case workers would work with the patients to complete the surveys.

The commissioners voted unanimously to approve the grant, which begins October 15 and will continue through December 31, 2019.

According to an HHS press release, House Bill 13 was introduced into the Texas House of Representatives in 2017 by Rep. Four Price of State District 87. In May 2018, the HHS agreed to issue up to $15 million to provide mental health services to 31 governmental entities and governmental organizations, to be matched by both local and private funds.

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(c)2018 the Kilgore News Herald (Kilgore, Texas)

Visit the Kilgore News Herald (Kilgore, Texas) at www.kilgorenewsherald.com

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