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February 12, 2013
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Many in Nevada County battling depression, drugs and suicidal tendencies

In the month of January, 110 individuals were brought to Nevada County hospitals due to a mental health issue that made that person a danger to themselves or others, county officials reported Tuesday during a meeting of the county’s board of supervisors.

Of the 110 individuals brought to the hospital, 28 were hospitalized involuntarily, as authorized by California Welfare and Institutions Code 5150, over the course of one month, said Michael Heggarty, director of Nevada County of Behavioral Health.

“We’ve seen a gradual increase in these types of cases over the course of the last year and a half,” Heggarty said Tuesday. “More and more of these people are not part of our mental health problems.”

In other words, the individuals being hospitalized are not seriously mentally ill people who are struggling with schizophrenia or paranoia; rather, it is individuals who are “depressed, suicidal or struggling with substance abuse,” Heggarty said.

“If I had to speculate, I would say it is a symptom of our economy.”

These individuals used to be employed but are no longer and all their problems cascade from that, Heggarty said.

“Often, the individuals will attempt to cope with their situation by using drugs and alcohol, which makes their problems worse,” Heggarty said.

The individuals being seen are “more suicidal, not homicidal,” he said.

The trend has had an affect on the county finances, as the board of supervisors unanimously approved a $180,000 increase in a contract maximum with St. Helena Hospital. The hospital, based in Vallejo, provides inpatient services to eligible Medi-Cal beneficiaries and/or indigent clients and further indicates an increase in 5150 cases statewide.

“It’s happening everywhere, not only in our county,” Heggarty said, adding that the lack of hospital beds in nearer locations such as Roseville and Yuba City caused the county to look farther away. Most individuals involuntarily hospitalized spend an average of five to eight days and the average cost for hospital services is $1,000 a day, Heggarty told the board.

“The county is responsible for the indigent health care of low income residents,” said Jeff Brown, director of Health and Human Services Agency, which oversees the Behavioral Health Department.

The increase in cases necessitating the expenditure comes after an incident in late January where Raymond James Pistella, 51, committed suicide in Nevada County Jail.

Questions surround whether law enforcement followed proper protocol in alerting appropriate officials about Pistella’s pronounced suicidal tendencies. Pistella had been arrested by Grass Valley Police officers after they responded to a report that a man was cutting himself and dispatch reports indicated he had possibly attempted suicide.

Nevada County Sheriff’s Lt. Bill Smethers said the day after Pistella’s death that the arresting agency must request a mental health evaluation and further iterated the jail had no record of an evaluation being performed.

GVPD Captain Rex Marks said law enforcement entities are constrained by limited resources in appropriately attending individuals with mental health issues.

“We are all sitting with our hands tied,” Marks said at the time. “We need more mental health resources. We have such a high need and such a low availability of needs and treatment centers. We can’t accommodate all the needs that are there.”

Local homeless advocates estimate that about 500 homeless individuals, many of whom exhibit mental health issues, live in western Nevada County.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda email mrenda@theunion.com or call 530-477-4239.


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The Union Updated Feb 13, 2013 02:19AM Published Feb 14, 2013 04:33PM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.