Freeholder Mildred S. Scott
Chair, Law and Public Safety Committee

County Inmate Psychiatric Evaluations Cheaper, Quicker and Safer

JANUARY 22, 2009 -- Police departments in Middlesex County now have a safer, more cost-effective way to provide psychiatric screenings to individuals placed under arrest thanks to a new system that allows for real-time, remote evaluations.

Video conferencing equipment, installed at the Middlesex County Adult Correction Center, allows prisoners to be seen remotely by psychiatrists from CFG Health Systems, which is contracted by the County to perform the evaluations. The County extended its contract for telepsychiatry services to interested municipal police departments and the Rutgers University Police. The total cost of the system, split among all participants, was $20,000.

Local police departments routinely bring arrested individuals to the County jail for incarceration. In some cases, the individuals need to be evaluated before being admitted. Arresting police must monitor the individuals until they are medically cleared to be placed in the County jail or until they are admitted to an acute care facility. This could take eight or more hours.
Telepsychiatrists can perform evaluations often within 30 minutes of a request, cutting down on the time local police officers spend transporting and monitoring individuals.

Telepsychiatrists are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They also can prescribe medication based on these evaluations.

Freeholder Mildred S. Scott, chair of the County’s Law and Public Safety Committee, said the service benefits municipal police departments throughout Middlesex County, while making the entire County safer.

“When officers are tied up transporting and monitoring these individuals, they are not patrolling our communities,” Scott said. “This will especially help smaller police departments, who have fewer officers to fill these roles.”    
Deputy Freeholder Director Christopher D. Rafano, chairman of the County’s Administration and Finance Committee, said: “In these tough economic times, government must find solutions that provide superior services at a reduced cost to taxpayers. CFG’s telepsychiatry program comes through for Middlesex County police departments in both categories.”

Warden Edmond C. Cicchi said: “This is the kind of innovative program that we are pleased to embrace. The fact that the equipment is housed in our facility and available for use at a moment’s notice reinforces our commitment to the well-being of those under our care and to all Middlesex County residents.”

In the first month of use, five prisoners were evaluated using telepsychiatry services. The estimated savings in police overtime was between $16,000 and $24,000. These figures are based on the average wait times that would have been experienced had the prisoners been transported to a medical facility for evaluation.

South Brunswick Police Chief Raymond Hayducka, president of the Middlesex County Chiefs of Police Association, was instrumental in bringing municipal police departments on board.

“This program is ideal for municipal departments not only because it increase public safety, but it does so by saving public money,” Hayducka said.

According to Hayducka, police officers typically wait a minimum of eight hours for an evaluation on a weekday during normal business hours. Wait times grow even longer during the evenings and on weekends, when psychiatrists are not available until the next work day.

Les Paschall, Chief Executive Officer of CFG said: “Chief Hayducka rallied support among the municipal departments, Freeholder Rafano brought the County’s backing to the idea, and Warden Cicchi made certain the jail could facilitate appropriate and expedient care. This is the epitome of a successful shared services program.”

CFG conducts more than 3,500 telepsychiatric consultations annually.
“I am excited that the County is able to provide a forward-thinking, cost-effective system that can truly benefit our municipal partners and County residents at large,” said Freeholder Scott. “It brings safety and cost savings, and that’s good for the County.”