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Mental health costs pile up for county
moccasin bend
Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute is a psychiatric hospital that serves 52 counties. Its mission is bringing the hope of recovery to people with severe and persistent mental illness.

Warren County government will pay the $9,900 price tag for an inmate’s mental health care, but it was a tough pill to swallow.  

The full Warren County Commission met Monday and among the items of business to consider was a payment of $9,900 for one inmate who was sent to Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute for evaluation. 

It was determined by Moccasin Bend staff that a stay of 22 days was necessary. 

“This was a court-ordered mental evaluation,” said Commissioner Scott Rubley, in presenting the resolution. “An evaluation is not this costly, but this included a stay at a mental health facility. This is court ordered. This is not a state inmate. Since they are in our custody, we are responsible for this payment. It’s out of our hands once the court orders it. It’s something we have to do.”

Commissioner Robert Hennessee asked if those costs are typical due to this being the third inmate in as many months. 

In October, the County Commission approved transfers of $9,000 and $13,050 for two inmates who were also sent to the facility for evaluation and stays were ordered. It brings the three-month total to $31,950.

According to Finance Department director Justin Cotten, these three are firsts in his eight-year employment with the county and all stem from the crime allegedly committed.

“It was my understanding that these were misdemeanor defendants who hadn’t even been convicted yet,” said Cotten. “As part of the trial, they were sent for evaluation and then the evaluating facility determined they needed to stay.”

Commissioner Tommy Savage stated, “Our hands are pretty well tied. That’s sad to say.” 

Under consideration for Warren County Jail is a contract with CHEER Mental Health to provide counseling services. Commissioner Steven Helton asked if these costs could be alleviated by that agreement with CHEER. 

“As some commissioners have expressed, some of these bills are getting extremely large,” said Helton. “Are we able in the future to do some of this evaluation in our own facility and in our own jail? Because we have a mental health person on staff, are we going to be able to do that to save taxpayers money so we don’t have to send people out to these expensive places?”

While the question was poised to Sheriff’s Department Major Jason Walker, his connection into the Zoom meeting was not good and his reply was inaudible.

“These are through the court system,” said County Executive Jimmy Haley, who answered instead. “These people are not in jail to be assessed and evaluated. When they are taken before the judge on a misdemeanor crime, if that judge considers their mental health – which is just as challenging as any health matter – it’s the judge that orders that. The county cannot interfere with what a judge’s decision is.”

Commissioners voted unanimously to transfer the funds to pay Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute for its services. Commissioner Ron Lee was absent.