The Mental Health Minute

Articles and news about mental health issues

Sheriffs Stressed By Mental Health Transport Problems

Knox County Sheriff's Office
Image by cliff1066™ via Flickr

This problem is quite universal and does not only affect the Sheriff’s Departments in Tennessee.  It is common for a Mental Health Officer from the Sheriff’s Department to transport patients to psychiatric facilities for assessment and treatment.  True, these are usually for some type of involuntary commitment and therefore not “happy campers” as such.  The statement about having family members transport non-aggressive patients really got my attention because usually the family has been so stressed by the person’s illness and they are either afraid of or afraid for the patient which makes transporting difficult.  I cannot tell you how many patients I have cared for that have simply opened the door to the moving vehicle and jumped out into oncoming traffic on major highways and busy streets.

I do, however, like the idea at the end of using video conferencing to make assessments.  Although nothing will take the place of a face-to-face assessment, this could be the next best thing and would save both time and money for all concerned while keeping the person in question in a safe environment.  What do you think?


Posted: // Dec 30, 2009 4:18 PM CST Wednesday, December 30, 2009 5:18 PM EST

By Jeff Tang

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The state has slashed the Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities budget by about $18 million each year. That’s created concern from the state’s sheriffs, who have to transport patients to mental institutions that may already be full.

“We’re talking about cuts of 23 percent in staff and 27 percent in bed capacity,” said Bob Grunow, Deputy Commissioner with the TDMHDD.

Sheriffs departments across the state transport almost all of the 14,000 patients that come to Tennessee’s mental health facilities each year.

“The officers have to travel to greater distances to other facilities if one is full because of cutbacks. You have to go to the next one, and the next one is usually 2 to 3 times the distance,” said Sumner County Sheriff Bob Barker.

Barker said that means wasted resources and manpower, and fewer deputies at home to protect the county.

However, state officials said only a handful of such cases, about 36, have occurred in the past half year.

“We’re relatively confident we have this under control and can minimize the delays and minimize the extra responsibilities of law enforcement,” said Grunow.

With budgets not looking any better in the future, the state is hoping to avoid problems down the road by exploring new options.

Family members may soon be able to transport mental health patients who are non combative. The state also hopes to use video conferencing to assess patients to prevent unnecessary transports.

“It’s going to be tough, and is going to continue to be tough, but we are committed to attempting to provide services in the best ways possible under the circumstances,” said Grunow.

The TDMHDD is continuing conversation with sheriffs across Tennessee in an effort to find a solution.


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