An increase in the number of inmates coming to the Lincoln County Detention Center in Pioche has raised the issue of dealing more proactively with inmates’ mental health issues.

A 2017 contract between Lincoln County and the City of North Las Vegas (NLV) calls for a 65-per-day minimum at the detention center. In other words, NLV pays Lincoln County for 65 inmates per day, whether or not there really are that many.

Recently, Sheriff Kerry Lee said the county has been housing, on average, about 75 inmates per day. “We are now having to make two transport trips, to and from NLV, each week.”

He stated that there are cases that have mental health issues of varying degrees, “depression and substance abuse is just a small part of them.”

Lee added, “It’s not just with the inmates from NLV, but our own, too. It runs the whole scope from very, very severe to very, very minor, and some have suffered this way for years.They are suffering a huge amount.”

To deal with the issue, Lee said, “We are currently working with a company that does what is called TeleHealth.”

Telehealth is the use of technologies to remotely access health-care services.

In the case of the detention center, Lee said that an inmate can schedule an appointment with a doctor, a specialist, or medical professional via teleconference.

He said, “We have the equipment for this, and have been working to improve and get the connections up and running. We will have a specially designated room where the inmate can sit on one side of an unbreakable Plexiglas window and have a private video conversation with the medical person. The jailer turns the computer on, makes the connection, then leaves the room so the inmate can have a private one-on-one conversation. The inmate does not have access to a keyboard, just the video camera and microphone of the computer on the other side of the glass.”

Other counties, like Eureka, have found that allowing inmates to have a private conversation, via computer or laptop, makes them more willing to share very private details.

Lee said, “Lincoln County will pay for this service because we feel it is important. The kind of mental health needs we are receiving at times, more and more, really, and from our local inmates, it is more necessary than ever before. It is also cheaper, because the inmate doesn’t leave the facility and we don’t have to transport the person to Las Vegas to a doctor in St. George, Cedar City, or Salt Lake City. That’s a long trip, there and back, for something we might have been able to determine through the TeleHealth system.”

When medications are prescribed for an inmate, they are administered by the staff at specified medication distribution times.

Lee said the problem of inmate mental health and this kind of solution is not limited to just the Lincoln County Detention Center. “It is statewide and nationwide. There are other rural jails that are coming on board with this same plan. Eureka is, and I think White Pine may be close to it, and others are investigating. And eventually, it might even transition over to regular general practice doctor teleconferences.”

He noted that more serious cases, where a hands-on, personal visit to the doctor is required, fall into an entirely different category.