LaPorte County Sheriff John Boyd would rather have his deputies on the streets instead of hours away, in some cases, tending to people declared a mental health emergency by the courts.
Since early December, Boyd said, there’s been a "dramatic uptick" in the number of emergency detentions ordered by the courts.
But, with bed space for inpatient psychiatric care lacking locally, Boyd said patients often have to be driven to facilities in South Bend and even as far away as Fort Wayne and Bloomington.
At least two of his deputies must accompany each patient, which means fewer officers working patrols while they’re away, sometimes for their entire shifts because of extended travel times, he said.
Over the past four months, Boyd said, 67 individuals under a court-ordered 72-hour emergency detention were transported from the hospitals in Michigan City and LaPorte for psychiatric care. Sixty were from LaPorte, seven from Michigan City.
"It’s extremely manpower-intensive for us," Boyd said.
He and a wide range of elected officials and other decision makers discussed the issue at length April 6 during a workshop.
State Rep. Jim Pressel, R-Rolling Prairie, said nine more psychiatric units are planned across the state under a bill adopted this year by the Indiana House of Representatives.
Their specific locations have not been decided.
"The goal right now is to get facilities within an hour of just about anywhere," Pressel said.
LaPorte County Commissioner Dr. Vidya Kora said the shortage of beds for emergency psychiatric care has been a problem for several years.
Kora said LaPorte Hospital, which used to have a psychiatric unit, will be asked to establish one at the new hospital it plans to start building this year.
Franciscan Health Michigan City also will be approached for more psychiatric care beds at its new hospital at Interstate 94 and U.S. 421 than what it provides at its current location, Kora said.
Kora said more beds will also mean keeping emergency detention patients here if they have a relapse.
Right now, Kora said, patients at outside facilities are brought back after the 72-hour emergency detention period expires but have to be returned after a relapse.
He said the annual cost to taxpayers from such inefficiency is in the "hundreds of thousands of dollars."
"It’s an extreme waste of resources. We should be taking care of them here with adequate outpatient follow-up," Kora said.