By Ed Runyan
The Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board has authorized use of $40,000 to hire a full-time “jail navigator” to connect mentally ill inmates with health care providers while in the county jail and after they leave.
“We know that our people go in and out of the hospital and in and out of jail. We want to follow them wherever they go,” said April Caraway, executive director of the mental health and recovery board. “We want to make sure they’re linked up with their doctor or therapist even while they are in jail.”
Coleman Behavioral Health Care will hire the navigator, who is expected to start the first of September.
As of now, the jail uses a $19,000 grant from the mental health and recovery board to employ a counselor 12 hours per week to screen inmates when they enter the facility and assess their mental-health needs. In some cases, that assessment results in the inmate being placed on suicide watch in a special suicide-prevention gown.
Currently the jail has 12 inmates on suicide watch out of about 310, said Don Guarino, chief deputy with the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office.
Eric Shay, assistant warden, said the elimination of most of the mental hospitals in the state decades ago means the county jail manages a large amount of the mental health caseload in Trumbull County.
“Ever since they closed Woodside [a former mental- health hospital in Youngstown], this is the new Woodside,” Shay said of the jail. “We’re not equipped to treat folks like this.”
Dr. John Malvasi, jail physician, treats the mental-health needs of inmates as much as possible, but he and the counselor have limited resources, Shay said.
A big reason many inmates return to jail over and over is they leave the jail with “no plan, no link” to mental health care, Shay said.
In effect, when an inmate with mental health issues leaves now, the jail “dumps them on the street,” Shay said.
After an inmate arrives at the jail, the navigator will try to connect him or her with any mental-health-care professional the inmate has worked with in the past. Before the inmate leaves, the navigator will establish a plan for them to continue their care, Shay and Caraway said.
Guarino says two big reasons the county jail has experienced overcrowding in recent years are drug addictions and mental-health issues. Local law enforcement officials say it is common for people with drug addictions to also have mental-health problems.