Floyd County Jail inmates sat Thursday morning in the building’s medical area, waiting for their examination.
Nearby are five medical cells. A sick woman was in one. A man with mental issues in another.
Last year the jail had about 20 inmates with mental health issues. It currently holds 115 people with those issues — about 15 percent of its total population, said Chief Deputy Tom Caldwell.
The closure of Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital is one reason for the number’s jump, according to the Floyd County Sheriff’s Office.
“It’s had an impact,” Caldwell said. “There’s no question about that.”
Northwest Regional served as a mental health facility for the area. Its programs extended to 31 counties.
The state-run hospital closed in 2011, part of a plan to move developmentally disabled and mentally ill patients to private settings and community-based services.
Two years later and the Floyd County Jail’s mental health population has jumped. Ashley Kilcrease, a registered nurse who works at the jail, said she’s seen an increase in suicidal and mental health patients at the jail since the hospital’s closure.
“We don’t have enough medical beds,” Caldwell said.
Jail officials submitted a proposal to the SPLOST committee in an attempt to solve that problem. The original $5.6 million plan to build a separate medical wing was reduced to a $2.2 million renovation, which voters passed in the November special purpose, local option sales tax election.
An existing block of the jail will be renovated, with at least 30 cells added. The jail’s existing medical area has five cells. Additional cells in the booking area are regularly used as medical cells as well.
The medical beds project can’t begin until the completion of a $1.9 million SPLOST project that will upgrade the jail’s control systems, Caldwell said.
The electronic controls project includes replacing the existing door controls, 10 touch screen stations, an intercom and paging system, video management recording and an access control system.
Caldwell anticipates the medical bed project won’t begin earlier than 2015.
Once complete, all inmates who are sick or require mental health treatment will be in the same area, near the medicines they need and the personnel who can help them.
The closure of Northwest Regional didn’t eliminate the programs it provided. The state’s plan was to move the patients into community-based services.
“I think there’s been an impact to us as a provider,” said Jason Bearden, CEO of Highland Rivers Health.
Highland Rivers Health provides several resources Northwest Regional once did.
One program is Community Transition Planning, or CTP. The program helps transition jail inmates into the community before their incarceration ends. Before they leave jail, a mental health professional assesses them and determines their needs, strengths and goals, Bearden said.
A plan is then made, doctors’ appointments created and medication obtained, if necessary. Highland Rivers also helps with counseling, housing and job placement.
Northwest Regional’s services, once rooted at the hospital, are now found throughout the community. Highland Rivers receives state funding to provide multiple services, including a 16-bed crisis stabilization unit in Rome. The $2 million facility is staffed by doctors, nurses and clinical technicians, Bearden said.
Highland Rivers also provides a group home. Some people institutionalized their whole lives who require constant attention are housed there.
Assertive community treatment, what Bearden called a “hospital without walls,” is a mobile hospital that treats the community’s sickest. It helps keep people out of jails and in their homes, serving up to 100 people a year.
Highland Rivers also has a supportive employment program. Most people want a job once they’ve been stabilized. The program helps 20 people at a time through job programs, Bearden said.
Highland Rivers also provides services not dictated by the state, including a permanent, supportive housing and a women’s substance abuse program.
“These are women who have had their lives ripped apart,” Bearden said.
Bearden credited state Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, and the local National Alliance on Mental Illness chapter for heightening awareness of mental health issues.
Click to see the previous report: "Sheriff Tim Burkhalter hopes SPLOST will fund Floyd County Jail security needs."