TRAVERSE CITY — Mental health services in the Grand Traverse County Jail will be expanded to allow for inmates to receive mental health care prior to them being in crisis, possibly as soon as Dec. 1.
The county contracts with the Northern Lakes Community Mental Health Authority for mental health services in the jail, but the current agreement only allows for inmates who already are receiving services from Northern Lakes when they enter the jail or are in emergent crisis to be seen.
“Right now, if an inmate comes in and he or she says, ‘I’ve been dealing with depression, but I’m OK right now,’ we know they’ve got some type of underlying mental health condition,” said Capt. Todd Ritter, jail administrator for the Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Office. “But … until that person deteriorates to a point where we notice they’re in crisis, we can’t get mental health services to help them.”
There have been two suicides and 52 suicide attempts in the jail since the criteria for reporting attempts changed in 2011.
The Grand Traverse County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday approved a contract with Northern Lakes that will extend services to people who aren’t pre-existing clients and who haven’t yet reached crisis.
Two full-time positions are provided for in the contract: a licensed mental health professional — likely a therapist — and a peer support specialist. The positions cost $98,000 and $65,500 per year, respectfully, according to the contract.
Funds for the two positions are built into the 2019 budget, county Finance Director Dean Bott said.
The licensed mental health professional will help identify individuals who might need mental health care to prevent them from reaching crisis and provide them with coping skills, group sessions, individual counseling or other resources to help, Ritter said.
Identification of such people can be based on staff recommendation or referrals and on the results of a brief mental health screening inmates complete when they’re booked, the contract states.
The peer support specialist will focus on community reintegration services for inmates that spend at least 20 days in the jail, according to the contract. Services include making various appointments, obtaining legal services, and contact with support systems outside the jail prior to release to plan for post-jail needs.
“It’s a huge piece that we’ve been without for a long time,” said Commissioner Sonny Wheelock Jr., a member of the Jail Ad Hoc Committee that helped craft the contract.
The jail previously had at least 40 hours of mental health services each week, but through attrition and budget cuts, only about 10 hours a week currently are available, Ritter said in a previous interview.
Jail, county and Northern Lakes officials have been working on the contract for about six months. It has a start date of Dec. 1 and will continue through Dec. 31, 2019. The contract can be renewed for one-year intervals.
“Is it a perfect document? I don’t know,” said Wheelock. “But the fact is, this sure is a good first step.”