Rockbridge County CIT assessment site to address mental health concerns and help law enforcement

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ROCKBRIDGE COUNTY (WSLS 10) - A new site in Rockbridge County hopes to address mental health concerns and manpower issues for law enforcement agents. Stonewall Jackson Hospital is teaming up with the Rockbridge County Sheriff's Office and other agencies to establish the first Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) assessment site in the Rockbridge area.

Officials said the new CIT assessment site will not only fit the needs of the mental health community, "It dedicates a staff to help them and assist them through the process," said Rockbridge County Sheriff Chris Blalock. "It also alleviates the shifts from having to carry that burden."

The assessment site gives law enforcement agents from the Rockbridge County Sheriff's Office, along with Buena Vista, Lexington and surrounding police departments a place to turn over custody of people believed to be dealing with a mental health issue.

"It's another step toward insuring public safety and the safety of the person being considered for an intervention with law enforcement at that time," said John Young, Executive Director Rockbridge Community Services.

While at the site, a trained professional will help deescalate the situation and evaluate the client, which allows officers to return to patrol.

"If a police officer encountered someone suffering form a crisis they would bring them into the emergency room, then they would be evaluated" said Blalock. "Normally that process takes about 8 hours, so that is 8 hours that police officers are sitting in the hospital and not out in the community working."

The site was is funded by a $540,000, two-year grant from the state. Since opening in October, staff said CIT professionals spent 66 hours at the site helping patients and another 40-plus hours transporting people to other parts of the state for help. While authorities recognize the site is a step in the right direction, authorities said more works needs to be done to better serving the Rockbridge community.

"Ultimately what we would like to see is more regional bed space and not require us to transport folks across the state," said Blalock.

Officials at Stonewall Jackson Hospital said since 2013 the number of patients with mental health concerns has more doubled. They hope the new site will help address those needs.