PARKERSBURG - After learning more than one-third of mental hygiene patients processed here come from out of the area, Wood County commissioners authorized a billing procedure so the county can attempt to recoup its costs.
Sheriff Jeff Sandy told commissioners having to deal with out-of-the area cases is costly to his department and time-consuming for deputies, taking them away from other duties.
"We have the mental health facilities here, so they are sometimes put in an ambulance to be brought here. It costs us quite a bit of money to handle these cases. In the last three weeks, we've had several out-of-county residents. We had two in one day from another county they were put in an ambulance to get here," said Capt. Rick Woodyard. He noted Ritchie and Pleasants counties probably have the largest numbers of cases that end up here. "They make up the majority because our ambulances service their areas and the hospitals here serve those counties, also Wirt County," Woodyard noted.
"Aside from the money, my biggest concern here is time and manpower. As an example, we had a recent breaking and entering out in the county, and because of the mental hygiene transport issue and deputies being held up with individuals, it took us an hour and 10 minutes to respond to one of our citizens. We need to all work together to reduce this burden. We need to do whatever we can to respond to situations like that," Sandy said.
Mental hygiene petitions can be filed against an individual believed to be in need of involuntary commitment to a mental health facility. There are hearings and mental exams to evaluate the individual before a ruling is made on their disposition, which may include commitment to a mental health facility.
Assistant Prosecutor Sean Francisco said there should be no problem determining which cases to bill.
"They have to list the county of residence in the petition," Francisco said.
"The transport sheet the officer fills out also has the respondent's home address," Woodyard said.
Sheriff's department officials said the number of petitions is on the rise. There were 535 petitions filed in 2007, 636 in 2008.
"We are looking at about one-third of those being from out of the area," Woodyard said. "And it gets costly. An average trip is about 200 miles, total trips last year were about 150, at 55 cents a mile, that's about $16,000 just for the mileage. It's an average of six hours manhours. At an average deputy's pay, the cost comes out to about $96 per trip, that's just an average. And we are wearing out our reserve deputies. We have one that has taken 35 trips so far this year," Woodyard said. "Sometimes we have to call someone in on overtime, so you have those additional costs as well."
Francisco said the statute allows for "appropriate costs" to be billed.
"As long as the other cities and counties can slide, they are going to take advantage of it, as you said," noted Commissioner Wayne Dunn.
On motion of Commissioner Blair Couch, commissioners voted unanimously to allow the sheriff to begin invoicing the proper governmental entities for out-of-county residents brought to Wood County on mental hygiene petitions.