Stepping Up Unites Law Enforcement, Mental Health Staff

The Messenger

By Joe Sutter

To help those with a mental health challenge takes many experts from many different specialties.

Providers from the emergency room, the mental health clinic, and county mental health organizers get to meet face to face with sheriff’s deputies, Fort Dodge police and jail staff monthly at meetings of the Stepping Up initiative.

The nationwide initiative, which Webster County became part of in March 2016, has made a difference but challenges are still great, according to Shawna Dencklau, Webster County assistant jail administrator.

“With the jail, in my opinion, it is not getting any better with mental health. It’s getting worse,” Dencklau said. “There are a few good cases we have had where we prevented them from coming to jail, but those are few and far between. We’d like to get more of that; it’s just difficult.”

The county jail is not the best place to treat a mental health disorder, both providers and local law enforcement have said. Officials would prefer to get them help, instead of sending them to court or to jail.

One recent example was highlighted by Melissa Klass and Ronni Arnold, both with UnityPoint Health’s Berryhill Center mental health clinic.

When the patient was acting out, it turned out he hadn’t been getting his court-ordered shot. So staff were able to meet him and give him the injection in a gas station parking lot — no jail time, and no emergency room visit needed.

On the other hand, more people have been arrested recently for simple misdemeanors, “being loud and obnoxious,” Dencklau said. One was arrested recently for an aggravated misdemeanor.

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