Demand vs. Supply
For both law enforcement agencies, the number of cases handled each year continues to grow; in 2002, the first year for which the office has stats, TCSO handled 2,386 mental health cases while APD handled 5,733. To TCSO's Sgt. Kitty Hicks, who supervises the office's Crisis Intervention Team, the only way to reduce the ever-increasing caseload is to create a stabilization unit, either attached to one of the hospitals or as a stand-alone unit: "What is needed, what has been needed since the beginning, is a crisis-stabilization unit," she said. "It seems like a no-brainer, but for whatever reason that has not happened." Sgt. Mike Turner, who oversees the APD Crisis Intervention Team, says that having some beds funded by the hospital district is a good start, but agrees more are needed. "It's like having a five-gallon bucket: It's full, and when you're taking one cup out, you're trying to put two cups [back] in."
Travis County Probate Judge Guy Herman, who reviews applications for mental health commitments, believes the best solution to handling the growing caseload is to put beds inside a medical hospital (most obviously at city-owned Brackenridge, which is run under contract by Seton). Having beds in the stand-alone private facilities, Shoal Creek and Austin Lakes, is great, he says, but Medicaid will only pay for beds attached to a general medical-surgical hospital. And that's not pocket change: According to the city/county-run Integral Care, roughly 42% of its clients receive Medicaid. "What we have is inefficient, and it's a boondoggle on the taxpayer," says Herman. "It's not the treating people while they're in the hospital that's the problem, but it's inefficient, especially when you can get one-third of your cost back if the beds were in a medical-based facility. It's not cost-effective."
Mental Health Cases of Local Law Enforcement
Total number of mental health cases handled by the Austin Police Department and the Travis County Sheriff's Office by year:
Source: APD & TCSO