EL CENTRO — The Police Department and Jackson House together sought a resolution on how to respond to behavioral health cases at the El Centro City Council meeting Tuesday, September 15.
Jackson House El Centro opened its doors for services late last year and received its first patient in January 2020. “Jackson House is a specialized short-term treatment alternative for adults experiencing an acute psychiatric episode or intense emotional distress who might otherwise face voluntary or involuntary commitment,” according to their brochure.
There had been 20 calls from that time, according to Mayor Efrain Silva. Whenever there is a call to detain and transport an individual — who is determined to be a danger to themself or others — it is usually the El Centro police officers who respond. The other law enforcement officers who could respond were from the Imperial County Sheriff’s Office.
The patient is then transported to a holding facility, usually a hospital setting, for observation and analysis for up to 72 hours until diagnosed by a psychiatrist.
Once a psychiatrist has diagnosed the patient, the patient is released or may be transferred to another treatment location designated as an LPS facility (Lanterman-Petris-Short Act facility). Since Jackson House is not an LPS facility, the patient is sent to another location outside Imperial County, according to Ziemer.
While the call represents a small portion of the annual service calls, it takes away time and resources from policing the City. “When we send a police officer to respond, the officer may take up anywhere from 10 to 12 hours,” said Silva.
El Centro Police Deputy Chief Robert Sawyer — who spoke before the council — said, “We are not the right people to handle these situations. Our main task is to respond to emergency calls and to safeguard life and property.” The mental health cases draw law enforcement officers away from their other duties.
Currently, treatment facilities rely on service calls mostly from the El Centro Police Department, said Patrick Ziemer, CEO of Jackson House.
“We don’t have enough officers on the street to deal with all the problems. What we need is assistance to provide services to respond to mental health crises,” said Sawyer.
The situation between Jackson House and the El Centro Police Department is only a piece of what is a larger problem across the State, according to Ziemer.
The LPS Ac) needs to be reformed, said Ziemer. “The original law was written in 1965; and it was written for a mental health delivery system that never materialized.”
However, this route will take some time to get the desired results because it will require legislators to change deficiencies in the policies, said Silva.
Meanwhile, there were suggestions to alleviate and resolve the current situation. The goal was to create a team of behavioral health professionals that will involve Jackson House, Imperial County, and the El Centro Police Department. Silva gave instruction to his staff to draft a letter to initiate the process.