Mental health transport eyed in legislation

By AUTUMN HUGHES
Posted 2/12/19

The issue of law enforcement agencies transporting people in need of mental services is drawing attention across the state.

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Mental health transport eyed in legislation

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The issue of law enforcement agencies transporting people in need of mental services is drawing attention across Tennessee.

According to Bradley County Sheriff Steve Lawson, he learned at a recent Tennessee Sheriffs Association meeting there are a few different bills being put forward in the Tennessee General Assembly related to this issue.

Lawson spoke during Monday’s Bradley County Commission work session, at the invitation of Commissioner Erica Davis, who serves on the Law Enforcement Committee. That committee first heard of the burden mental health transports place on the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office during a meeting last month.

At that time Jon Collins, captain of the BCSO’s patrol division, said the BCSO is statutorily required to transport mentally ill persons to the nearest treatment facility, based on the availability of bed space at these facilities.

Collins said in the county, the BCSO is mandated to transport mental health patients to a facility with an open bed. Officers must also secure the patients, which means handcuffing them during the transport period.

"These people are mentally ill, they're not inmates," Collins said. "I don't know if we're the people who need to be in the mental health transport business."

He reviewed a list of facilities BCSO transports patients to, as well as the number of transports and associated costs.

Collins also shared a list of mental health transport costs representing 522 mental health transports the BCSO has conducted in the past year, with a total cost for salary and mileage of $131,278.98.

"It comes out of our budget," he said.

On Monday Lawson said he is aware of several bills, noting “I’ve read a couple of them.”

“I think it really affects us because we have a hospital here in our county,” Lawson said. He added Bradley County was the first county to break down the cost of mental health transports and share that information with the TSA.

Lawson added he has $135,000 in his budget to buy vehicles and the sheriff’s office is spending about that much on mental health transports.

A proposed resolution regarding mental health transports was pulled from last week’s County Commission voting session at Lawson’s request.

“The sheriff asked to pull it temporarily,” said Vice Chairman Jeff Yarber, who serves as chairman of the Law Enforcement Committee, at that meeting.

The resolution requested that Gov. Bill Lee, the Bradley County Legislative Delegation and the Tennessee General Assembly revise laws pertaining to the transport of mental health patients.

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