Friday, August 18, 2017

Bringing County Mental Health issues into focus

Mental health treatment, liability and risk, inmate deaths at the County Jail...these topics are hot right now since the County recently settled a huge lawsuit with a family over the death of their son at the jail.

I was in attendance at my last all staff meeting of the human resources department yesterday. Our director was giving a briefing on current County issues, and the one at the forefront was a lawsuit resulting from the death of an inmate at the county jail.

The agenda was structured in such a way that there would be a few reports made, and then a round table discussion would take place where each staff member would report on their current activity and relay any information to the group that they felt was necessary. My turn to speak would be near the end and I was thinking of what I was going to say to the group as my turn approached.

My direct supervisor had mentioned in her report that I was leaving HR and going transferring back to work for the Sheriff's Department. So I led into my speil by thanking all of the staff members, as I looked around the room at each of them, for all of the experiences and assistance I had received in my year at HR. I told them that the two most impactful terms I had learned this year were: "organically", and "stretch assignment." They all laughed, because that pretty much sums up HR.

Then I briefly explained when I left the Sheriff's Department a year ago, I had to get out of the jail and off the night shift because it was killing me. I had planned  to make a new career, hopefully, in HR Risk Management, but then this opportunity came up for a Legal Clerk position that was too good to pass up. I would be going back to the Sheriff's Department, not at the inside the jail, but into the Records and Warrants Division, where I would be utilizing the skills I learned at HR to take on additional responsibilities and assignments and hopefully progress in that department as far up the chain as I would be able. The schedule, the days off, everything had aligned just as I had wished for, perfectly and organically.

Then I segued into the topic of the recent case and settlement. I told the group that I had an interest in the case because I had a son who had developed schizophrenia and committed suicide eight or nine years ago. I told them how we had tried to get help for Andrew and how difficult it was to navigate a system that doesn't clearly tell a person how to get help for mental health issues. I told them how it was my greatest fear that my son would end up on the streets and get arrested and taken to jail. I told them of how, while working in Booking, I would often take calls from parents or family members who expressed relief that their person had been arrested, because they felt that now they would be able to get the help they needed. I said to this group, of course, that is not how it works.

Mental health cases come in and out of the jail all the time when people are arrested for petty crimes. However, they don't get treatment until they have committed a heinous crime where they will spend a considerable amount of time in jail and psychological reports are mandated to prove their ability or inability to stand trial.

I mentioned that the jail is not equipped to deal with all these mental health cases, as has been stated in recent news articles. I emplored the HR staff to pay attention, and do what they could to ensure improvements in the system occur and that the Community is educated on ways to best intervene for their loved ones and get them the mental health treatment that they so desperately need.

From the moment I began talking about Andrew my tears started following and even though I couldn't look at anyone any longer I knew a lot of them were shedding tears also. I got a lot of hugs from my HR co-workers as the meeting ended and we headed out the door. Even the director came over and gave me a hug and expressed her sympathies for the loss of my son. I have to note here that I had been saying for the past month one of the reasons I was going back to the Sheriff's Department was because it felt more like a family and that I got hugs from the sheriff whenever I encountered him at the county building and I had missed all that. So now in my last meeting, I had made a rather deep and personal connection with the HR staff, and hopefully left them with something that they could relate to in a more human way as they managed their assignments dealing with County issues.

I feel a little guilty leaving my supervisor with the task of filling my job and my role, because I knew I had filled a big void in our Administrative Services Team. It had been a rocky journey for me and my supervisor, but I handled the problems I encountered intuitively, proactively, and  emerged with a base of good relationships with everyone I had worked with there.  My teammates have told me how much they're going to miss me and I know it's true. But fortunately, the stars have aligned, and the perfect person to replace me has appeared. The girl I am training is catching on so quickly and has enough experience in her background that she will be able to take what I have accomplished and run with it. My greatest contribution was in creating an accounts payable manual for our HR department that sifted through all the information and whittled it down to everything a person needs to know about our specific accounts payable responsibilities.

One big plus of what transpired in that meeting was that I did have the ear of the HR Director, who will have much influence on how the county procedes with mental-health issues. I know that I was able to create that emotional, human connection to the issue and that was exactly what I wanted to convey. Some of the comments I received afterward had to do with "being brave". I don't know about that, but I do know that I have put it out there into the universe, and I will be watching to see what the ripple effect could be.