Behavioral Care Center: Early signs of hope from a leap of faith

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Posted at 8:43 PM, May 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-26 21:44:06-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — As we recognize May as Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re also taking an in-depth look into the Behavioral Care Center where we’re beginning to see results.

To understand what’s happening inside the BCC, you have to begin with what’s happening outside. Sheriff Daron Hall says overall jail intake has been down during the pandemic. We’ve gone from incarcerating more than 100 people each day to just around 40.

That meant fewer people evaluated for mental health needs at intake, before getting treatment. One reason Sheriff Hall says they’ve been so successful is by learning to adapt.

“I was too simple on the front end. I thought we would catch everyone at the front door and say it’s a yes or a no,” Hall said.

Now he realizes this is not nearly as straightforward. Say you’re having withdrawals from alcohol and drugs. Typically you’re not eligible to receive treatment, but those moments when you're down also require attention.

Hall says he’s learned not to give up on those who don’t immediately qualify because he now understands how withdrawal can have devastating effects on your mental health. After someone is booked and takes time to get clean, they can be transferred to the BCC for further treatment.

Since they opened in September, Sheriff Hall says staff has helped more than 140 once inmates now patients. Seven percent have been re-arrested, that’s compared to the 70 percent recidivism rate at the jail next door.

“I’m not saying this prevents it, but I'm saying this is a much better environment for that person to receive what we all want which is a productive citizen in our community,” Hall said.

Here patients are encouraged to socialize, take their medication if necessary and heal together. While the BCC caters to most with a mental illness, Sheriff Hall tells us it’s not the type of environment for someone having a psychotic episode. He says it’s best for those folks to cool down someplace else first, before making their way to the BCC where you’re expected to be around other patients. After your 30-day stay, Sheriff Hall stresses that the most important part is making sure you don’t leave with anywhere to go.

“When the doors open, this staff is required to have someone there to pick you up,” Hall said.

This way you’re less likely to re-offend. The trouble is knowing the only way to get this treatment is to get arrested in the first place. Sheriff Hall envisions more of these mental health facilities in the county, but this time without law enforcement having to be involved.

Other limitations include if you’ve committed a serious crime against a victim, Sheriff Hall, and the District Attorney’s office have agreed that the victim can refuse treatment for the suspect and settle in court instead.

Experts have told Sheriff Hall to expect a wave of mental health patients as the pandemic winds down. They warn of how the pandemic forced many to cope with their isolation by forming addictions they will soon have to withdraw from. Financial stress is another contributing factor.

Ultimately, the future is to build. That way people have access to care countywide and not because they’ve committed a crime. As he did with the BCC, Sheriff Hall says he wants to continue reinvesting his 30 percent of his $100 million budget to match the percentage of the mentally ill who once made it behind a cell.

“My theory was, let’s build what they need. Leave it in my budget and the next wave, build that building outside the criminal justice system and never call the police,” Hall said.