TRAVERSE CITY — Staff and healthcare providers inside Grand Traverse County’s jail do a decent job of caring for an inmate’s physical health, while mental health services are fragmented, deficient and disorganized, a recently-completed assessment shows.
“We asked for this report to see what we were doing right and what we were doing wrong and what we could do better,” Sheriff Thomas Bensley said.
“I think it is pretty complete,” he added, of the report. “With the mental health, there’s a disconnect there and this gives us a roadmap for where we go from here and how we deliver more services to more people.”
In January, Grand Traverse County Commissioners approved a $24,600 contract with NCCHC Resources, the consulting arm of the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, following complaints at public meetings from some former inmates and their families.
Bensley suggested the county hire NCCHC Resources and a three-person consulting team — two physicians and corrections professional — met with jail staff in an online meeting in June, then visited the jail in July.
Consultants examined staffing and medical records, interviewed corrections officers, inmates and medical staff, assessed policies and personnel schedules and reviewed records of jail suicides.
“The facility doesn’t have the most ideal layout,” the report stated, “but it is functional and can meet the medical needs of the inmates. It appears that the general care is adequate and the staff are committed to the performance of their assigned duties and the provision of care to patients.”
The work of a peer support specialist was noted by the consultants as a positive. Other mental health services did not fare as well and several major areas of concern were identified, including:
- A “significant disconnect” between Wellpath, the jail’s contracted healthcare provider, and Northern Lakes Community Mental Health, which provides mental health services to inmates.
- An absence of documentation by CMH in the jail’s health records.
- “Pervasive” evidence that essential mental health services are not provided to as many as half the jail’s inmates, some of whom have been assigned to CMH staff for treatment.
- A CMH behavioral health specialist who devotes as much as 40 percent of his time to only three inmates.
- Records of two inmates who died by suicide having had no mental health assessment while in the jail.
- No “psychological autopsy,” a standard protocol, completed in at least two inmate suicides.
Bensley said the assessment was made at least partly in response to community concern, and he expects future discussions with county officials to address the findings.
“Where we go from here and how we correct mistakes and make improvements is something we’ll be talking more about,” he said.
Bensley, a Republican, is running for re-election and some of the concern about jail health care services came from his Democratic challenger, Greg Hall.
Hall’s mother and brother-in-law are former jail inmates and Hall reported neither received their medication while incarcerated.
“That’s why I decided to jump in because it’s a very, very broken system,” Hall said. “Looking back to my mom’s example, nothing in the NCCHC’s standards would have prevented that from happening. There’s so much missing that they don’t even have standards for.”
Hall is the creator of the Facebook page, Abuse at the Grand Traverse County Jail.
He previously said his mother did not receive her physician-prescribed blood pressure medication, necessitating a trip to the emergency room, nor did she receive a timely medical assessment, despite what he said was evidence of suicidal thoughts and actions.
“The assessment report is just a snapshot,” Hall said, of the review by NCCHC Resources. “It’s what they see during that particular day. I find it hard to believe that if they found a lack of coordinated care on the mental health side, that wouldn’t be the case on the physical side, too.”
The primary recommendations of NCCHC Resources are for jail staff to integrate all healthcare services regardless of vendor, provide better planning and access to community services for inmates prior to discharge and improve record-keeping.