By Ed Runyan
Officials with the Trumbull County jail and Mental Health and Recovery Board will meet in the coming weeks to plan for an innovative program to provide jail inmates with “telemedicine” counseling.
Thanks to a $119,000 state grant, inmates will begin to receive mental-health counseling in the coming months through audio-video teleconference equipment to be installed at the jail.
It will be one of the first counties in the state to provide this type of mental-health treatment, said April Caraway, executive director of the mental-health and recovery board.
Officials have said that they have seen an increase in recent years in the number of inmates with mental- health issues because there is a lack of resources and facilities available to treat the mentally ill.
A year ago, the mental- health and recovery board provided $40,000 to hire a full-time “jail navigator” to connect inmates with health care providers while they are in jail and after they leave.
The board also has provided $19,000 each year to pay a part-time person to screen inmates when they enter the facility and assess their mental-health needs and determine whether they need to be placed on suicide watch.
Dr. John Malvasi, the jail physician, treats the mental-health needs of inmates as much as possible, but he has a limited amount of time for that, said Eric Shay, assistant warden and jail administrator.
The navigator and others on the jail staff will identify inmates who are experiencing mental-health issues, and they will be brought to the teleconferencing area for therapy sessions with a doctor, Caraway said.
A big focus will be to identify individuals who are going to be released soon to get them counseling, an assessment and possibly an appointment with a counselor for the days shortly after they are released.
Caraway said this is important because individuals who have been in jail who have a drug addiction frequently use their first opportunity after getting out to party with drugs. Sometimes that can be fatal because their body cannot handle the same amount of drugs after they have been clean a while, Caraway said.
The grant will pay for the equipment that will be used for the sessions and the services of a psychiatrist through Coleman Behavioral Health and possibly a couple of other local health care providers.
Shay said one of the big benefits for the jail is that the inmate will not need to be transported from the jail to a health care facility.
Without a court order indicating that an inmate needs to be evaluated as a result of his or her court case, most inmates do not receive mental-health counseling, Shay said.
“It’s very obvious a large percentage of inmates have issues — mental health and substance abuse,” Shay said. “Identifying those is important in managing the inmates.”
When inmates are booked into the jail, they are classified according to their danger to others or themselves.
“It’s a lot easier to maintain control when you have a good classification system,” he said.