The Transylvania Times -

County Backs Jail Initiative


August 10, 2017

An initiative to reduce the number of people with mental illness being in jail was supported Tuesday by the Transylvania County Board of Commissioners during its regular meeting.

Prior to the approval, Carolina Carter, with Meridian Behavioral Health Services in Brevard, gave commissioners an overview of the effort.

In 2015, the National Association of Counties, with help from the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the American Psychiatric Foundation, launched “Stepping Up: A National Initiative to Reduce the Number of People with Mental Illnesses in Jails.”

As part of the efforts, county elected officials are asked to pass a resolution and to work with local law enforcement, judges and other court officials, treatment providers and state lawmakers to meet that goal.

It’s estimated that each year 2 million people with serious mental illnesses are admitted to jails across the country.

It’s also been found that those with mental health illness have longer stays while incarcerated, have a higher re­incarceration rate than individuals without mental illness, and cost detention centers more.

Those involved in the Stepping Up initiative receive online resources and tools, and access to conference workshops, webinars and networking to address the issue.

Roughly 381 counties across the nation, including 43 counties in North Carolina, have signed on to the effort, so far.

Carter said that in the past several months local stakeholders, including Meridian, law enforcement, the hospital, community mental health agencies, churches and county officials have been meeting to develop a diversion program that fits Transylvania County.

The ultimate goals include reducing the number of individuals booked; reducing the length of stay in jail, increasing the connection to treatment and other services; and reducing recidivism.

Carter said that, typically, those with mental health issues stay longer in jail and have fewer resources, such as the financial capability to bond out.

Jails have become the “de facto treatment centers for people with mental illnesses,” she said, noting that over the past several years institutions and residential centers have been closing because of budget cuts.

This puts pressure on the resources, including costs, of local services and puts additional stress on law enforcement. Vaya Health has provided some funding locally to help with the issue in the Transylvania County Detention Center.

The local effort, Carter said, is working on whom do they want to serve and the best way to serve them.

It can start with an initial 911 call and finding out if an individual needs mental health help, she said.

Commissioner Page Lemel asked how these efforts would help from a financial standpoint.

Carter said that someone on Medicaid, for example, who is in jail would no longer receive those services. If they are serving longer sentences, then it means more resources to deal with them. Behavior in jail can also sometimes lead to more charges, more time in jail or hospital, and more costs.

Commission Chairman Larry Chapman said he’s talked with local enforcement around the state who say that while in jail those with mental health issues do get regular meals and medicine, among other things.

Chapman asked that once an individual is let out of jail, who is going to follow up and make sure the person is taking his or her medicine and getting a meal?

Carter said they are looking at how to stop a person from getting into the system in the first place or from going back to jail. It involves case management and being engaged with treatment providers, helping to make sure the person is getting to appointments, and finding housing and employment.

“When people have that purpose in live, there is less risk for them,” Carter said.

Chapman asked how it is determined that someone has a mental health issue when they arrive at the county jail.

Capt. Jeremy Queen, with the Sheriff’s Office, said that once anyone enters the facility an assessment is made, including a questionnaire, to try and answer specific questions about the person’s mental and physical health. That assessment is then passed on to the jail nurse, who shares office space with a Meridian representative.

Queen said it is a “coordinated effort” to find out who is a “good candidate for diversion” and for help with mental and other issues.

“This is a classic instance of an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Queen said of the initiative.

Carter said the effort is really still in the planning process but it will have measures to gauge success.

Lemel said there is “huge potential” for the program.

In other action:

•The county will hire Developmental Associates for roughly $19,000 to help with the search for a new Social Services (DSS) Department director.

Tracey Jones, the current director, will step down from the role on Aug. 11. Chapman noted that Jones is returning to her home county, Graham, because of family reasons.

The search should take roughly 70 to 90 days.

Commissioner Jason Chappell said it was “prudent” to hire Developmental Associates because of all the requirements needed to be a Social Services director.

The county will have an interim county DSS director in place until a permanent replacement is found.

•Commissioners approved a $152,500 bid from Appalachian Construction of Pisgah Forest for the HVAC installation at the Transylvania County Activity Center.

The project includes installation of two 20-ton HVAC units for the gymnasium. In addition, the work will include a new exterior concrete slab, chain link fencing, repair work, gas piping, electrical work, an acoustical layin ceiling, as well as associated demolition work.

Water lines will need to be relocated to accommodate the new HVAC units. The City of Brevard has agreed to install a 120-foot water line, new meter, meter setter and meter box, relocate the existing fire hydrant and asphalt repair if the county will purchase the materials in the amount of $9,520.00.

The total proposed budget for the project is $183,172, which includes a 10 percent contingency.

The money will come from the Parks and Recreation reserve fund.

•The contract with the Transylvania Economic Alliance expired June 30, but both parties have expressed the intent to renew it. Commissioner representatives, staff and Alliance members met in July to work through improvements to the existing contract so that it can be renewed.

To provide adequate time for that negotiation, the group recommended an extension for one quarter. Commissioners approved the extension, which will expire on Sept. 30 and result in a quarterly payment of $125,000 due at the end of the quarter to the Alliance.

•Commissioners revised its transportation fare policy to make trips fare free to and from Transylvania Vocational Services.

•Commissioners approved up to one month of temporary overtime to help the Environmental Health Department to reduce the wait time for permits.

Historically, Environmental Health has averaged two to three weeks from permit application to being onsite. Recently, the wait time has increased to four to six weeks and has partially been because of staff turnover and personnel out of the office due to injury.

The warmer months it was noted are the peak time for construction.

The financial impact has been calculated at about $3,891.

•County Manager Jaime Laughter will give a presentation on the county’s Early Childhood Initiative this Saturday during the N.C. Association of County Commissioners.

Commissioners called it a “huge deal” for Laughter to give the presentation.

During her manager’s report Tuesday, Laughter also gave an update on the current federal flood insurance reauthorization that is underway.

There are reforms to decrease the subsidy given to those with federal policies. It could mean increases locally in rates for those in flood zones. This could impact 148 properties in the county, 15 in Rosman and 100 in Brevard.

On the ongoing Davidson River Connector project, which will connect the Asheville Highway with U.S. 64, Laughter reported that the current plans call for a traffic light at the U.S. 64 intersection, but there is no right of way to allow for a roundabout.

One possibility is that traffic on the connector could be restricted to right in/right out movement to maintain traffic flow.

Fire Department ratings have improved, Laughter reported, or stayed steady for Cedar Mountain, Connestee, Lake Toxaway, Little River and Sylvan Valley II. The county is waiting for results for North Transylvania, Rosman and Balsam Grove

•During commissioner comments, Commissioner Jason Chappell said he took issue with a recent letter to The Transylvania Times that said he wasn’t available to constituents because he lists a P.O. Box number for his address in the paper.

Chappell said he doesn’t get mail at his home’s physical address. Chappell said he’s made a “vested effort” to make sure he was available to the public. He said his cell phone is public — 553-0958 — and his physical address is 1245 Panther Gap Road.

“If you can find my house, you are welcome to come to it,” he said.

Commissioner Mike Hawkins said he went to Charlotte recently and met with the new chairman of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, of which Hawkins is a board member.

The chairman, Frank Emory Jr., Hawkins said, is from eastern North Carolina and has an interest in rural economic development efforts.

Hawkins also noted that there are 45 counties, including Transylvania County, in the state that have populations of fewer than 50,000 people.

Of those, only four have a lower jobless rate than Transylvania, according to the June jobless numbers. Hawkins said this is a tribute to the local businesses and people investing here.

Chapman mentioned that Aug. 25 is the current official opening of the Western North Carolina Military Museum in the former county administration building beside the courthouse. There will be a soft opening on Aug. 14.

“You will be amazed what they have done there,” he said.

The VFW will also host an event for Vietnam War veterans on Aug. 26, he said.

•Commissioners have cancelled their next meeting, Aug. 28.


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