New Pa. county jail mental health counselor starts next week

The new counselor will be an employee of PrimeCare Medical, which provides medical services at the jail under contract with the county

By Keith Gushard
The Meadville Tribune

SAEGERTOWN — A mental health counselor for inmates at the Crawford County jail is scheduled to begin work Monday.

Chuck Laffey, regional coordinator for PrimeCare Medical, gave the Crawford County Prison Board an update on the hiring at the board’s monthly meeting Thursday morning at the county jail in Saegertown.

The new counselor will be an employee of PrimeCare Medical, which provides medical services at the jail under contract with the county.

In May, Crawford County commissioners authorized the creation of a mental health counselor for inmates after a formal request by the Prison Board. The 40-hour week position to counsel inmates will cost $59,241.82 a year, but funding for it was put in the jail’s 2015 budget.

Due to the county’s classification, the state requires the Prison Board be comprised of the county’s three commissioners, treasurer, sheriff, district attorney and a county judge.

Members of the Crawford County Prison Board are Commissioners Francis Weiderspahn Jr., Jack Lynch and C. Sherman Allen, Treasurer Christine Krzysiak, Crawford County Court of Common Pleas Judge John Spataro, Sheriff Nick Hoke and District Attorney Francis Schultz. 

The decision to create the position rested with the county commissioners.

Prison administration asked for the counseling position due to past problems where inmates were required to talk to a mental health professional prior to their release. If a mental health professional was unavailable, some inmates were held past their release date until they could meet with one, according jail officials.

An inmate who enters the jail on suicide watch or is put on suicide watch can’t be released until the inmate has met with a mental health professional, according to jail officials. Even if the same individual makes bail, the person must meet with a mental health professional before being released, or the jail would be liable if something happens.

The only other mental health professional at the jail is a psychiatrist, also employed by PrimeCare.

There are two county employees who make appointments for inmates with mental health professionals and assist with mental health administration, but they don’t do any mental health counseling, according to Warden Tim Lewis.

The person selected for the new post is a licensed mental health counselor and was one of nine people who applied for the position, Laffey said.

Laffey told the Tribune he wouldn’t name the individual because while she has accepted the Crawford County position, she only has given her two-week notice at her current job.

The new inmate mental health counselor will undergoing some additional training for the position at the Franklin County jail in Chambersburg, Laffey said. PrimeCare Medical also is the medical care provider for Franklin County.

“They have graciously agreed to let her do some training down there since they have this position already set up,” Laffey told the board. “It works very well down there, so they agreed to let us send this individual down there to assist in her training.”

The hiring of the mental health counselor also has assisted the county jail in obtaining a 100 percent compliance for a voluntary, three-year accreditation from the National Coalition of Correctional Health Care.

The Crawford County jail has achieved a 97 percent score on essential standards set by the NCCHC and 100 percent on important standards NCCHC Laffey said.

“Of the 64 standards (in all), each standard has at least five to 10 compliance indicators within that standard,” Laffey said. “We have roughly 500 line items that we have to meet and there was only one they suggested we have to tweak a little bit. With the (mental health) position being filled Monday it actually covers that, so we’ll resubmit that action plan.”

National Commission on Correctional Health Care accreditation is based on the NCCHC Standards for Health Services which are the recommended guidelines for managing the delivery of medical and mental health care within correctional systems, according to the organization’s website.

The standards were developed in the 1970s as part of the American Medical Association’s initiative to improve health services at the nation’s correctional facilities, according to the NCCHC website. The standards were developed by health care, legal and corrections experts, according to the website.

Areas covered by the standard include health care services and support; inmate care and treatment; health promotion and disease prevention; special inmate needs and services; health records; medical-legal issues; facility governance and administration; environmental health and safety; and personnel and training.

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