CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — One Coastal Bend organization believes focusing more on recognizing mental illness would keep more people from going into the jail system. In fact, a fairly new partnership between health officials and area law enforcement is already seeing results.
"Our goal is to try to divert them from hospitals so we are not tying up the ERs, and divert them from jail if possible," CCPD Crisis Officer Amber Buckelew said.
A big part of what Buckelew does is focused on helping people who might be suffering from mental illness, many of whom end up being homeless. A partnership was established last year between the Corpus Christi Police Department and the Nueces Center for Mental Health & Intellectual Disabilities, and it is making strides in combating the issue.
"We have not just PD but MHID also partnering," Buckelew said. "They have contracts with Charlie's Place. If someone is struggling with addiction for example, which a lot of people with mental illness do struggle with addiction, we're able to get them directly in there."
Emergency care that comes through a program called the Crisis and Forensic Diversion Program.
"Often times people get into trouble based on their mental illness, so we recognize, and this community recognizes, this is a problem we are not going to arrest our way out of," Buckelew said.
Mark Hendrix with MHID said the costs can add up. It's about $3,000 every time a person goes for psychiatric in patient stay, $350 to have someone in a state hospital bed, and upwards of $137 a day to incarcerate someone who has mental illness.
"When you think about the cost associated with arrests, with incarceration, with long-term psychiatric in-patient care, it's must cheaper to treat people than it is to incarcerate them or hospitalize them for a long period of time," Hendrix said. "It's also more effective."
Their effort is already showing results, serving over 360 people with a cost savings of $2.3 million.
"This partnership has been awesome," Hendrix said. "It's opened up so many doors. We're able to collaborate with the DA, with several different entities. I don't think it would have been possible had this not started."