Transport contract could impact region

Published 1:36 pm Wednesday, May 22, 2019

A contract between a Virginia state organization and a private security firm has the potential to alleviate the role of area law enforcement in transporting people experiencing mental health crises. However, the response may not be immediate, and it may not completely release the responsibility from law enforcement to provide transport.

According to a news release from The Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) on May 7, the DBHDS is set to give G4S, a private security firm, a $7 million, two-year contract to transport those with mental health crises.

Currently, that transport falls under the responsibilities for area law enforcement.
“G4S will be providing alternative transportation services using unarmed, specially trained drivers in secure, unmarked vehicles,” the release cited. “The result is a safe and secure transportation that is trauma informed and focused on the individuals’ recovery and engagement in treatment.”

“The current practice in Virginia of transporting people in need of involuntary hospitalization can intensify trauma and make them less likely to engage in treatment in the future,” said DBHDS Commissioner Dr. S. Hughes Melton said in the release. “This new alternative transportation program is an exciting and significant step forward in how we treat people in crisis who need involuntary hospitalization.”

According to the release, G4S would “provide alternative transportation to an estimated 50 percent of all (Temporary Detention Orders) TDOs in Virginia during the contract period. In FY18, there were more than 25,000 TDOs and it is estimated that law enforcement transported 99 percent of these individuals. This number includes both children and adults. The new alternative transportation services will be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”

DBHDS Communications Director Maria Reppas said alternative transportation is set to begin this summer. Reppas said a definite number of employees is not yet available for the transports, and figures would be based on demand.

It may be some time before the region sees the program go into effect. Reppas said the Crossroads Community Services Board jurisdiction, which includes Charlotte County, is scheduled for the program to develop in the summer of 2020.

Reppas said while officials will respond to TDOs, they are not expected to respond to Emergency Custody Order (ECO), which are also handled by area law enforcement.

When law enforcement respond to ECOs, they are transporting those with mental health crises to private hospitals or community services boards for evaluation. Often ECOs can become TDOs if a private hospital does not have a bed available for an individual, and state hospitals are required to assist individuals. When an ECO becomes a TDO, law enforcement transport individuals to a state hospital.

Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office Major Royal Freeman reported there have been 25 TDOs and ECOs since the beginning of 2019.

“It can tie the officers up for really up to 24 hours,” Freeman said about the transports.
Having an organization that could potentially transport a portion of those with mental health crises could potentially free up time for deputies.

“It would be a big relief,” Freeman said.

Rhonda Thissen, executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Virginia, said the program offers numerous benefits especially for the person who is experiencing the crisis. The alternative transportation provides a gentler approach in an often traumatic situation.
“From our perspective at NAMI, this is a net gain,” Thissen said. “This is absolutely an improvement in our service system.”

Thissen echoed the benefits to law enforcement, noting that transportation can often be time consuming.