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New program mental health program helps keep deputies on the road

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FRANKLIN COUNTY (WSLS 10) - A new program for mental health patients started this week at Carilion Franklin Memorial Hospital.

To understand how the program works, it is important to know the previous protocol.

Before, if someone in law enforcement custody needed mental health treatment, an officer would be taken off his or her regularly-scheduled shift to transport that person to Carilion Franklin Memorial Hospital, where there is no psychiatric facility. The patient may then have to wait - sometimes up to 10 hours - to be taken to another facility where they can get treatment.

But the patient isn't waiting alone. A law enforcement officer will have to wait with them. That took much-needed law enforcement off the streets for long periods of time.

Now, with money from a state grant, an officer who was not already scheduled for a patrol that day, may be called in to wait with the patient - keeping other officers on their regular schedules.

Major Harry Clingenpeel says the program will be a huge help. Franklin County received about $227,000 to pay an officer and a mental health professional in these circumstances.

For four days a week, 10 hours a day, there will be a law enforcement officer and a mental health professional waiting for a patient at the hospital, before being taken to a psychiatric facility.

"We are not a psych facility, so we want to make sure we are moving people as rapidly as possible, and it's something we've always done but we have funding from the state," says Bill Jacobson, Carilion Franklin Memorial Hospital.

In addition, the Franklin County Sheriff's Office is in the process of training all deputies to be better identify people who many need mental health treatment. Clingenpeel went through the training and says it's very important.

"I may have arrested this person in the past by not realizing this person has something else going on that we can do a diversion process here and help that individual, but also help the citizens in the county to know they're in a safe environment," says Clingenpeel.

Through the training, deputies are taught to see what people who may be going through mental health issue face, and be better prepared to talk to and help them.