Long-Distance Evaluation of Mental Health Cases Proposed; Pilot Program Could Reduce Police Escorts to State Mental Hospitals

Article excerpt

Byline: BRANDON LARRABEE

ATLANTA -- Every day in Georgia, sheriff's deputies spend time taking people who are suspected of having a mental illness to state hospitals for an evaluation.

The trip usually occurs after the individual was evaluated by a physician at an emergency room or at a community mental health center.

Sometimes, after review at the state hospital, the patient is admitted. But often they are not, meaning that a deputy who could be on the street in his or her community has spent hours taking someone on a trip they didn't need to take.

"That is a huge issue for all sheriffs statewide," said Terry Norris, executive vice president of the Georgia Sheriffs' Association. "It's a problem everywhere."

But a proposed pilot program from the Department of Human Resources would test three counties to see if technology could help reduce the number of trips deputies take.

"For those that it's appropriate [for], we're trying to cut down the number of transports that do not lead to an admission," said Bill Kissel, director of quality and evaluation at the DHR division that handles mental health.

Essentially, it would allow a doctor at one of the state's hospitals to use a link resembling a teleconference to "see" the patient without the deputies having to make a trip.

"That person would be evaluated by a physician and then we would know before the transport took place whether or not an admission would take place," Kissel said.

The state is talking to Hall, Gordon and Bibb counties as possible test sites. …