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Tennessee increasing drop off clinics for mental health patients

By Nadia Ramlagan, Tennessee Public News Service

Tennessee is increasing the number of drop-off clinics that allow police officers to take people with mental-health and/or substance-abuse issues to a treatment provider instead of jail.

Sejal West, senior vice president for operations of Volunteer Behavioral Healthcare System, says the jail diversion program is a close collaboration between local criminal-justice systems, law enforcement and treatment providers.

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“Just even the process of determining which crimes, which offenses would be appropriate for this, that was done collectively,” says West. “There are low-level misdemeanors, where there’s not a victim. Like trespassing and loitering, public intoxication. Those are a lot of the charges we see.”

West’s organization covers 31 counties in middle and east Tennessee and is slated to receive $500,000 in funding to help build a new clinic.

According to state data, between 2017 and 2019, pre-arrest diversion clinics connected more than seven thousand people to mental-health treatment, saving an estimated $9.8 million.

Kim Parker, director of inpatient and crisis services at Pathways Behavioral Health Services, says the funding will help her organization build a new clinic in a closed-down hospital in rural west Tennessee.

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“We will be able to use that rural hospital to provide this service to get the people the treatment that they need,” says Parker, “as well as reduce the overcrowding in the jails.”

This year Gov. Bill Lee budgeted $1.5 million to boost the pre-arrest diversion program in rural, underserved and distressed parts of the state.

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