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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Improved Mental Health Services At Our Local Jail

Many of the 350-400 housed here suffer from mental illness
You may have read numerous posts here about the level of mental health care our Community Services Board has been able to provide through its contract with our local jail. Until January of this year this covered the services of only three hours a week by a nurse practitioner to take care of the psychotropic medication needs of a population of 350-400 inmates, plus a social worker or other staff person for another hour or two weekly for intake, assessment or other needs (The jail has a contract with Southern Health for other medical care).

Thankfully, the CSB, under the leadership of Lacy Whitmore, was recently able to access some regional reserve funds to provide a half-time counselor on site at the Rockingham/Harrisonburg Regional Jail for the first time, beginning this January. This fund has been matched by some $14,000 each allocated by the Rockingham Board of Supervisors and the Harrisonburg City Council, which means the CSB's present level of services can continue through June of 2016.

This is a most welcome development.  CSB clinician George Nipe finds himself extremely busy during the twenty or so hours he spends at the facility, and while it is impossible for him to respond to nearly all of the requests he receives for his time, this is a good start.

My sincere hope is that this can be a step toward our CSB significantly expanding its services at the jail in the near future. The Winchester Regional Jail, for example, with just over a hundred more inmates that ours, employs two full time counselors, and the Arlington County Jail has five counselors and a full time psychologist for an inmate population of 525.

One inmate at the RHRJ recently wrote me the following:

"I have been able to meet with the new counselor from the CSB twice now since I came here two months ago. He is very encouraging, and he is interested in seeing if I could be transferred to Western State Hospital where I could get some help for my mental problems.”


To further illustrate the need for the RHRJ to provide additional (and improved) medical and mental health services, however, here some excerpts from other recent letters I’ve received recently:

"I've been trying to get into things like an AA group, a mental health class and a class for substance abuse. They keep telling me the groups are full or that I have to wait till next month.."

"I have not gotten my proper meds since I have been here, and medical won't even ask the UVA Hospital to fax them my medical records. And I also know of two inmates who have asked the medical department repeatedly to see the CSB counselor and nurse practitioner and have gotten no response."

"One of my cell mates had a seizure and fell on the floor and it was 15 minutes before a member of the medical staff came. When they did, the inmate was taken to a cell to lie down instead of being taken to medical for treatment."

"When I was really distressed and asking for help, they threatened to put in the padded isolation room instead of giving me the help I needed."

"When I was having a hard time adjusting to the new meds the nurse practitioner prescribed for me it took over three weeks before I got to see her again to tell her how they were affecting me."


Of course there may be another side to every individual story, but these are typical of concerns I and others have been hearing for years from inmates and family members. I also realize the jail staff and budget may be stretched to the limit when it comes to providing for the needs of the physically and mentally ill in its crowded facility, but shouldn't we treat those we incarcerate with some of the same kind of dignity and care we would expect for ourselves or our loved ones?

I hope and trust we are beginning to move in a positive direction.

"Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are ill treated as though you yourselves were suffering." Hebrews 13:3 (paraphrased)
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