Henry County ?steps up? for jail diversion

By Gretchen Teske, Mt. Pleasant News


The Henry County Jail?s mental health diversion program is working, according to county officials.

The Henry County Supervisors and Henry County Transition link coordinators joined together on Tuesday, May 15, to celebrate a national stepping up day of action, and discuss the impact the program has had on inmates.

The national initiative was implemented in Henry County March 1 and has served 60 percent of inmates experiencing mental health complications.

Sarah Berndt, Henry County Transition Link program director, explained this initiative works in cooperation with eight other counties. The program is an intercept model which helps to divert people with mental health problems to receive help and not become repeat offenders.

On June 18, 2015 Henry County signed the resolution to become a stepping up member.

The program operates post-booking of the offender. Once they are arrested and booked they are then screened for mental health complications. They are then given the option to continue with the care provided. Individuals who do not test are also eligible with the referral of a doctor, psychiatrist or family member.

If they are determined to need mental health care, the offender then receives care tailored to them. The care includes helping them re-access Medicaid, which is lost after 30 days in jail, finding housing and access to mental health professionals outside of the jail confines.

?One of the things I love about our program, is it?s not a canned program,? Berndt said. ?The program is designed based on what the jail administration and the sheriff want to see in that environment.? In the future, Berndt hopes to see grief counseling and Iowa Works, an employment agency, brought in to help the inmates.

Audrey Menke is the transition link community transition coordinator of the Des Moines, Louisa and Henry County jails. Individuals who opt into the program are under her care. She reported since March 1, 169 individuals have been booked and 101 of them were flagged on the mental health screener.

The program has been offered to 41 individuals, and so far 32 have enrolled. Once enrolled, they are interviewed and referred to a mental health provider or receive therapy as needed.

?We?ve seen a big difference, in my opinion, in the day-to-day progress with our inmates,? said Sheriff Rich McNamee. The program, he says, has greatly reduced the stress, anxiety and anguish among inmates because they know there is someone available to help them. ?(We see) less anxiety when they get out because someone has helped them through it.?

Once inmates are released, mental health professionals reach out after 30 days, three months and six months to ensure the individual still is receiving care. ?Our goal is for them to have established a comfortable, professional, relationship with somebody,? said Berndt.

Hillcrest Family Services has also teamed up with the initiative and can provide mental health services to individuals in the emergency room. This allows for a mental health care professional to make an evaluation on whether the individual needs in-patient or out-patient treatment or can be treated in the jail setting.