Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer
Macon County Commissioners last week approved a third-party contract that will hopefully alleviate some of the staffing concerns within the sheriff’s office.
When a magistrate issues an involuntary committal order, an officer from that county is required by law to transport the patient to a hospital for evaluation, but the shortage of available beds for mental health patients is making the process problematic for local law enforcement.
At the request of Sheriff Robert Holland, commissioners voted unanimously to contract with ABT Secure Solutions, LLC, to allow the company to transport involuntary commitments (IVC) as needed. Currently, whenever someone is involuntarily committed, the Sheriff’s Office is responsible for securing those individuals within their custody and transferring them anywhere in the state where a bed becomes available.
“Last year we transported 194 individuals who had been involuntarily committed,” said Sheriff Holland. “As of today, we have transported 199 this year, which includes two being transported to the coast tonight.”
Whenever an IVC case is being transported, a deputy drives them however far it takes for them to be placed in an appropriate facility and often times has to pick up the individual whenever they are released. The transports remove detention center staff as well as deputies from other responsibilities within the department, which adds to the staffing shortage both on patrol and within the detention center. The transports also increase the amount of overtime pay needed to pay employees to make the trips across the state, which often results in overnight travel.
According to County Manager Derek Roland, the transportation agreement can be accomplished within the sheriff’s office’s existing budget and new monies will not be used to execute the contract. According to Roland, the funds that have previously been used to pay sheriff’s office staff to transport the IVC patients, will now be used to fund the contract. The Macon County Sheriff’s office has previously spent nearly 10,000 man hours in a single year transporting patients, which amounts to around $300,000.
The rate sheet for the contract is proposed to be $27 an hour for time a driver is actually working and a mileage reimbursement rate of $.65 a miles.
While commissioners approved the agreement, the contract still has to be sent to local municipalities for approval. Both the town of Highlands and the town of Franklin leaders must review and accept the contract before it is finalized by the county.
North Carolina state statute mandates that the governing body of a city or county may adopt a plan for transportation in involuntary commitment proceedings. Law enforcement personnel, volunteers, or other public or private agency personnel may be designated to provide all or part of the transportation required by involuntary commitment proceedings. Persons so designated shall be trained and the plan shall assure adequate safety and protection for both the public and the respondent. Law enforcement, other affected agencies, and the area authority must participate in the planning. If any person other than a law enforcement officer is designated to provide transportation, the person designated shall follow the procedures set up for a law enforcement officer to transport.