PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (WTAP) – Wood County Sheriff Rick Woodyard is calling for changes in the way mental hygiene calls are handled.
He said: “Some of the problems we see here are that we select people who really – the criteria they are selected for do not meet the law. The law, in our view, is outdated. It needs to be redesigned. »
Woodyard said mental hygiene calls are for people who pose an immediate danger to themselves or others. They are intended to detain, assess, and then send a person to a mental health facility for involuntary placement.
“Often there are different ways to get a petition signed through an emergency room situation, the individual’s family member can get it, or a law enforcement officer can get it, ask up to the Mental Hygiene Commissioner to bring the individual in and inmate and then be assessed by a local mental health facility which in our case is Westbrook,” Woodyard explained.
He said anyone can get a petition for anyone and there is currently no law on perjury.
“The person could come in, fabricate whatever they want on the petition affidavit, and then a mental hygiene commissioner can sign that, and then that person can be detained for several hours without a lawyer or without being assessed for an illness mental,” he said.
Woodyard said he disputes that people can be detained for up to two hours without the right to an attorney. He explained that they are being held without a lawyer until they are evaluated.
“I think an individual who is arrested should have an immediate right to counsel to protect their civil rights during the motion,” he said.
Woodyard said his department responds to about 650 mental hygiene calls a year. That’s about one to three a day.
“…, and of this number, only 25% are deemed mentally incompetent and then sent for a three-day 72-hour assessment. Once this assessment is completed, they may be sent for further assessment for up to 10 days after a psychiatrist or psychologist sees them,” Woodyard said.
This means that only a quarter end up qualifying to be involuntarily committed to a mental health facility.
“I think some of the things that lead up to that are the fact that the Mental Hygiene Commissioners get paid on a piece-rate basis for every signature they sign, every petition they sign, they get paid for that signature. We are one of the last areas in the state of West Virginia to have this system,” Woodyard said.
The mental hygiene calls are putting more pressure on an already understaffed department, according to Woodyard.
“It’s gotten completely to the point where it’s hard for us to do our other jobs – answering road calls because deputies are being turned away and sent to the hospital for mental health patients, whatever they’re just doing is to sit with them and make sure they don’t leave,” he said.
Officer duties also include transporting mental health patients for involuntary engagement if necessary. Woodyard said mental health professionals should.
“We have officers and our civilian staff driving people across the state who are in a medical or mental emergency with no way to treat them if something goes wrong between point A and the point B. I just think it’s crazy to do that,” he said. .
Woodyard also dislikes the nature in which people in crisis are cared for.
“When you have a family member who is in crisis and a cruiser pulls up at their house and they are brought in and put in the back seat of a car – a cruiser, a police car – it is a bit confusing for people too. I mean, their family member is not a criminal. They have a medical or mental issue, so that’s one of the things that I feel a bit sick with…” he said.
Woodyard said his department currently has no other way to pick people up.
He said his ministry has reached out to elected officials.
Woodyard said he was asking for three main things.
He wants mental health commissioners to be paid an annual rate rather than per petition.
He also wants law enforcement excluded from mental hygiene calls except for pickup. To clarify, pick-up encompasses when officers take a person to Westbrook or the hospital for evaluation, according to Woodyard. Law enforcement should generally stay with the person until an assessment is completed. Transportation includes taking people to a facility for involuntary placement. Woodyard said it can be a two to three hour drive to get to a facility.
Finally, he wants mental health evaluators to be exempt from any civil liability.
Woodyard explained that evaluators are the only ones in the mental hygiene process who are not protected from civil lawsuits. This means that if they make a bad assessment, they could be prosecuted for it.
“They’re going to err on the side of it to avoid being sued, so these borderline cases, sometimes they can go ahead and say ‘You have to go to the three-day assessment’ because, you know, they have afraid of being sued. And who wouldn’t be? he said.
Westbrook Crisis Services Division Director Cory Carr said he would be happy to work with Woodyard’s proposed changes if they are adopted at the state level. Carr said he was fine with minimizing the role of law enforcement as long as security permitted.
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