BLOOMNGTON — Six inmates at the McLean County jail are waiting for beds at a Springfield mental health facility for a court-ordered transfer for treatment, and some have waited almost three months.
McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage said the delays have meant that half of the jail's booking area now serves as a mental health unit for the inmates whose mental health condition is an issue in their criminal cases.
"We've had one person waiting since August. This ties up our observation cells and puts a strain on staff," said Sandage.
Three of the six inmates have refused medication available as part of the treatment offered at the jail, said the sheriff. Staff at a state facility have options not available at jails to achieve medication compliance. "
According to Meghan Powers, spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Services, 16 inmates from nine counties were waiting for beds at the state facility as of Sept. 29. McLean County had four inmates on the waiting list at the time, but that number has since grown to six, according to the sheriff.
The state is working on strategies to divert and prevent people who are at risk because of mental health issues from becoming involved in the criminal justice system, said Powers.
Along with those efforts, the state is "working to increase our capacity to house forensic patients by reorganizing and adding new forensic beds," said Powers.
The shortage of available inpatient beds for mental health services also continues to be an issue for local hospitals, according to Stephanie Moore, director of nursing for critical care services at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal.
"We continue to see high volumes of patients with mental health conditions in our emergency department and our inpatient mental health unit," said Moore. The hospital also continues "to experience considerable wait times for getting patients placed in the appropriate facility because of high demand statewide," said the nursing director.
BroMenn is seeing a younger patient population with more severe mental health conditions, said Moore.
Last year, BroMenn President Colleen Kannaday told a local mental health panel that some patients have stayed months in the hospital's critical care unit while waiting for inpatient care at another facility. It's not uncommon for patients facing a mental health crisis to remain in BroMenn's emergency department for days, Kannaday told the McLean County Behavioral Health Coordinating Council.
The hospital's emergency department had about 2,000 visits involving mental health issues the previous year, according to Kannaday.
Mental health treatment for inmates became a priority for county officials after a 2012 study by the National Institute of Corrections recommended major changes in housing conditions for inmates with behavioral health issues.
A $39 million jail addition under construction will include a mental health unit to better address the needs of those who enter jail with a diagnosed mental illness.
The NIC study requested by former Sheriff Mike Emery estimated that about 30 percent of male inmates and 40 percent of female inmates had a history of mental illness. The jail's mental health program "appears to be a model in many ways," the NIC consultant said.