By Errol Castens | NEMS Daily Journal Oxford Bureau
NEW ALBANY – At least through February, Union County residents committed by a court for treatment of a mental illness won’t have to wait in jail for a psychiatric hospital bed to open for them.
Union County supervisors voted earlier this month to contract for 90 days with Region IV Mental Health to provide care for mental commitments.
“We signed the agreement Dec. 5, and it was a good thing, because as soon as I got out of the meeting I had a commitment waiting,” Chancery Clerk Annette Hickey said.
The service will cost Union County a little less than $4,000 per month.
Such patients have historically been held in jail cells while awaiting treatment, but state law now requires that county jails go through a certification process that includes special training for jail personnel and deputies along with 24-hour availability of both a psychiatrist and other physician.
Alternatively, Union County had been taking patients on mental-health holds to certified facilities in Batesville, Corinth or other towns. Deputies would have to pick them up, bring them back to New Albany for hearings, return them to the holding facilities and then make yet another trip when a hospital space became available.
Hickey said the new arrangement saves the Sheriff’s Department a great deal of manpower.
“Once I get the paperwork done, that person is taken care of,” she said, noting that hearings can now be accomplished with all participants meeting by Internet-based video. “When a bed opens, Region IV takes them down the hill to the North Mississippi Hospital.”
Hickey said patients are better cared for under the new arrangement, and the county has less liability exposure.
“I’ve explained to my supervisors that it’s kind of like buying insurance,” she said. “I don’t like paying the bill every month, but if I have a wreck, I’m glad it’s there.”