Officials: Mental health officer program already successful

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

May 23, 2017 at 10:24 p.m.
Updated May 24, 2017 at 6 a.m.

Jonathan Hein

Jonathan Hein   Contributed photo for The Victoria Advocate

Even though they've only been on the job for four weeks, mental health officers in Victoria are already diverting people from the jail to treatment.

Before, there was a language barrier between law enforcement and mental health providers that sometimes made getting people to treatment inefficient, the Gulf Bend Center's Executive Director Jeff Tunnell said.

"They've recognized we're saying the same thing but we say it differently," Tunnell said.

On Tuesday, Nicole Way, Gulf Bend's Director of Behavioral Health, introduced the officers to the mental health authority's board of trustees.

They are Delia Romani and Jonathan Hein.

Romani is a Victoria County Sheriff's Office deputy. She's worked there for five and half years. Most recently, she was assigned to the courthouse. Hein, meanwhile, has worked on the Victoria Police Department's patrol division since 2013. Before coming to work for VPD, he was a police officer for the U.S. Air Force's Security Force for nine and a half years.

Way also introduced Tammy Gregory. Gregory, a peace officer for 17 years, retains the title of law enforcement navigator.

"We have a lot of individuals who are in jail request Gulf Bend services. They do the screening and eligibility process and when they get out of jail, we ask them to come to Gulf Bend to start the admission process. Well, they don't follow through. The navigator will help with that warm hand off," Way said, explaining Gregory's position.

The mental health officers' salary is funded through a state grant Gulf Bend renegotiated in March. It goes until Aug. 1, but officials are hopeful the program will continue well past that.

Funding for Gregory's position came out of Gulf Bend's budget for crisis services, Tunnell said.

"We're expecting great things. No pressure," he said to the officers, who are all certified by the state as mental health officers after taking a 40-hour course and passing an exam.

Way reported to the board of trustees that already the officers have performed three screenings and 13 wellness checks, issued three warrants for psychiatric hospitalization and transported two people to psychiatric hospitals and one person to a psychiatric appointment.

"They also assisted with the de-escalation of two male individuals that were downstairs in our crisis department," Way said.

Gregory, meanwhile, has been given clearance to enter the Victoria County Jail and will soon be commissioned by the agency and able to use its database.

So far, she's met with various community partners, such as the Victoria Housing Authority, Billy T. Cattan Recovery Outreach, Workforce Solutions Golden Crescent, the Food Bank of the Golden Crescent, 211 Texas and the First United Methodist Church, as well as with three inmates. She's also shadowed Mike Allen, who has a veteran peer group at the jail every Thursday.

"My process has been a little slow going," Gregory said. "I do think that we have the potential to make this something great, and I think we have the support of the community."

Romani and Hein agreed.

Specifically, Romani said it was gratifying to relieve other officers on mental health-related calls. She sees her work as preventing future crimes.

"I'm so glad we got this started," Romani said. "Me, as a deputy, going inside a home without my weapon to see somebody that I really don't know would be something difficult, but these counselors do it every day, so I'm very glad to work with them and have learned a lot."

Hein said he felt good after at least one of the calls he was dispatched to likely prevented a child from being hurt or killed by a relative with mental illness in crisis.

"This program is bleeding into other areas other than just mental health," he said.

In an interview after the meeting, Hein said he wanted to help people with mental illnesses before they go into crisis.

"I really just want to do what I can to help them stay on their medication and in their treatment programs, so they can function like everybody else and have a better quality of life," he said.

Last month, Gulf Bend reported that 154 people booked into Crossroads county jails had a mental illness.

Delia Romani's statement by Victoria Advocate on Scribd

To revisit the Victoria Advocate's series about gaps in mental health care in the Crossroads, click here.


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