San Marcos gets new officers to handle influx of mental health calls

Hays County also lacks inpatient mental health units

FILE - San Marcos police (KXAN File Photo)
FILE - San Marcos police (KXAN File Photo)

SAN MARCOS, Texas (KXAN) — Getting the right care for Central Texans struggling with mental illness is an ongoing effort. San Marcos police say mental health calls have more than doubled since 2012. Trained to handle those calls is Officer Grant Sheridan, SMPD’s only mental health officer. At a quick glance, you might not know Sheridan is a police officer. He wears plain clothes and drives an unmarked car.

“To me, it’s a tremendous privilege to help people when they are often in one of the most difficult points in their life,” said Sheridan. “It’s made me a better officer, helped me to understand the true difficulties some of these people face.”

“Some of our mental health calls for people in crisis can easily last seven- to eight hours,” said Bob Klett, assistant chief of operations for SMPD. “Most times, those calls take two officers, and so those are taking officers off the street from responding to 911 calls for service.”

Thanks to grant and city funding, the department is adding two more mental health officers. They expect the first one to begin this month.

“It will allow us to assist multiple individuals on any given day, as opposed to me being the sole officer,” said Sheridan.

However, the department is now facing another obstacle: there are no inpatient mental health units in Hays County. And this week, University Medical Center Brackenridge in Austin told the department they would not be accepting any patients in crisis brought in by SMPD officers.

“For whatever reason, Brackenridge has decided to refuse our individuals from Hays County in mental health crisis, but again, our authority as peace officers under the Texas Health and Safety Code, permit us to do that,” Sheridan said. “It’s very frustrating for our department.”

Steve Taylor, communications manager for Seton hospitals, says it is due to a lack of space:

“The Psychiatric Emergency Department at University Medical Center Brackenridge is too small to accommodate the needs in Travis County, much less surrounding counties, including Hays. However, that was all of the space and funding available at this time. Seton will be most supportive of any effort in Hays County or elsewhere in Central Texas to add another Psychiatric Emergency Department, locally. We need community partners to come forward and address this need, which is great and continues to grow.”

He went on to say the hospital’s Psych Emergency Department has 17 beds; seven for “treat-and-release” patients and 10 for more acute patients.

“It’s just an ongoing effort,” said Sheridan. “As time goes by, we hope to overcome obstacles and continue our efforts.”

While a lot of progress has been made in Central Texas to help mental health patients, it’s clear there’s still much more work ahead.

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