Recent requests by the Center for Mental Health for donations from the towns in the North Fork Valley have resulted in local law enforcement raising some unresolved issues over emergency services.
The Center for Mental Health has its headquarters in Montrose and serves six counties with an office in Delta, and access to a health and human services office in Hotchkiss.
The center has told Hotchkiss and Paonia town councils that they have served a number of patients from their communities. The center provides emergency services for people in crisis. They help people who are suicidal and suffering with psychosis.
Several weeks ago after Ed Hagins, clinical program manager, explained the center's programs to Hotchkiss trustees, they agreed to contribute $500. The town has annually given to the center for some time. No issues about lack of emergency services were raised at that time by law enforcement while Hagins was present.
Then at the Oct. 23 Paonia budget work session Mayor Neal Schwieterman and Police Chief Scott Leon expressed negative opinions about the center. No one from the center was present to respond. In a letter to the Town of Paonia, the center asked for a $500 donation. The trustees decided to include a $250 donation in the 2013 budget.
Mayor Schwieterman explained to the new council members that when the police have a mental health case, the person is held in Delta at the jail or county hospital until the Center for Mental Health comes in and evaluates them for mental stability. "In my experience, and Scott [Leon] confirms, [the center] continues in a lackluster performance," the mayor said.
Police Chief Leon added, "They used to respond [locally], but that was several years ago. Now . . . everything is done by phone. Unless by chance we have to go to Delta anyway, we'll take [the party] and they meet us at the hospital. We wait for three hours before they get there. The response is pretty horrid."
Leon explained that when they receive a call they sometimes know a person has threatened to harm himself or another, but often times the officers learn that only after being on the scene. If someone has threatened suicide or tried to hurt someone, the party has to be mentally evaluated.
"We get relieved of our liability once [the Center for Mental Health] gets involved and they do a diagnosis or an evaluation," Leon said.
Leon expressed displeasure over the center doing evaluations over the phone and not coming to Paonia to see the individuals to do an in-person evaluation. "They haven't come to Paonia in years," Leon said. In his opinion, even if a person is taken to Delta, the center doesn't always deal with the person.
The Town of Paonia did not give to the center last year because of their performance, trustee Corinne Ferguson said.
The police chief suggested $250 would be a fair donation. Trustee Amber Kleinman wanted to give $250 and instruct the center if they would provide better services the town would consider giving more next year.
Hotchkiss Marshal Dan Miller, when interviewed on Oct. 26, said, "No one wants to deal with mental health." He added, "It's very sad. I've seen this my whole law enforcement career. I cannot ever remember when a mental health person actually really gave a 'dang' about helping someone out. They are only interested in the money."
What type of mental health cases do law enforcement deal with? They involve violent, suicidal and irrational behavior. Last Thursday night a woman in her 30s was found sleeping in the middle of Highway 133 in front of City Market. She was known to law enforcement because of previous theft charges. Unlike many who have mental instability, she is not homeless. When contacted by law enforcement, she became violent. She was transported to the hospital and became more violent. She was finally restrained and given a sedative. A Hotchkiss officer later took her to the padded room at the jail until Mental Health arrived.
The amount of time an officer has to stay with a person until a clinician arrives, can be frustrating. A Hotchkiss deputy waited seven hours at the Delta hospital last summer. According to Marshal Miller, he finally had the party placed on a mental health hold at the jail. "[Mental Health] finally got there. I took him down at about 10 a.m. They got there at 11 p.m. or midnight, and evaluated him," Miller said. "They wouldn't tell anyone, because of HIPAA rules, of what they did with him. No one knew where he went." It was sometime later that the Marshal's Office and the family learned the party had been taken to Grand Junction for treatment.
"I've seen people very combative threatening suicide, very deep down wanting to kill themselves and needing help" and when Mental Health arrives, the person in custody doesn't want to be locked up in a hospital and will say they are fine. "[Mental Health] will release them after the person signs a paper saying he won't hurt himself or someone else," Miller said.
Law enforcement officers are frustrated that when someone from Mental Health arrives, so much time has transpired that, "They aren't seeing what we are seeing. They don't care what we say and what we have to do on the street with these people," Miller said. He added the reason the system doesn't work is the reluctance of Mental Health to commit people.
Miller remembers when he first started in law enforcement that it was easy to throw someone into a mental institution without cause. Now he feels it's gone to the other extreme.
"There are a lot of people dying out there who are not being taken care of. You look at the theater shooting guy [in Aurora], I don't care what happens, his therapist knew he was unstable and shouldn't have been out on the street, but they didn't do a 'dang' thing. They just blew him off and they hope for the best.
"It's an illness and it should be treated like an illness. It's not the person's fault that they have those illnesses. They should be able to go to someone and be treated for it and not be chastised for it or turned away and ignored. I think society ignores these people truly because they don't know what else to do with them. And Mental Health isn't helping," the marshal said.blog comments powered by Disqus