BLAIR COUNTY, Pa (WTAJ)–The Blair County Commissioners approved hiring a second licensed clinical social worker to the county’s prison Thursday, August 4 at the business session meeting.
This second hiring addresses the rapidly increasing mental health crisis among the over 300 prisoners. The counselor comes from PrimeCare Medical, which provides medical health clinicians across multiple counties in the state.
County Commissioner Bruce Erb said that one social worker sees on average 50 inmates. That is over double the workload.
“We are at a point now that on an average day, our one mental health clinician, licensed clinical social worker, could see up to 50 inmates, which in an 8-hour timeframe does not give her time,” Erb said.
Erb said that the social workers typically do mental evaluations of inmates and then grade them through an ABC scale. The scale determines the level of illness severity and whether they need to be seen frequently.
Erb said the average number of inmates with severe illness is higher than the number that the counselor sees in a day. That further demonstrates those inmates that need to be seen frequently can’t receive adequate care because of the lack of staff.
“She is trying to see at least that many people a day, but those people with a serious mental illness almost need to be seen on a daily basis,” Erb said. “This doesn’t allow her time to spend to do the job she really wants to do, that PrimeCare wants to do, and we want done.”
The goal of the new hire is to lessen the current worker’s load and provide better treatment for the inmates. Chairman of the Blair County Prison Board, A.C. Stickel, believes that the level of care will increase.
“If I’m seeing fewer patients and inmates, then I certainly have more time to give a better evaluation and provide a better service to those inmates. We do think they’ll be an increased level of care,” Stickel said.
However, the county recognizes that treating inmates within the prison grounds is not ideal. Nearly a decade ago, many county mental health agencies were cut and slashed funding for services by $84 million.
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Commissioner Erb noted that because there’s no mental health facility, the prison has become the county’s largest mental health treatment center. He hopes the state can fund more dollars toward mental health services to help combat the issue and give inmates the proper resources.
“A number of years ago, several mental health facilities were cut back, closed, gotten rid of, and they’re probably people in the prison that should be in a mental health facility,” Stickel said.