I share our community’s reaction to Andrew Holland’s death — it was shocking and heartbreaking.
I recognize that emotions are raw — so much so that several death threats were made against the lives of county employees. Just as Andrew’s death is unacceptable, so, too, are threats of violence.
We failed Andrew. The county’s policies and procedures were profoundly flawed, and the results were devastating.
Although we cannot reverse this tragedy, Andrew has become a catalyst for significant change in our county operations, reforms that our county’s Health Agency and Sheriff’s Office are fully embracing.
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Following Andrew’s death, we have made the following changes:
- Destroyed the restraint chair and prohibited future use at the jail.
- Restricted inmate time in safety cells and require timely assessments by a psychiatrist.
- Changed protocol at the County Psychiatric Health Facility to promptly accept inmates with declining mental health.
- Expanded mental health screenings for all incoming inmates to provide inmates medical help as soon as possible.
- Intensified training for deputies, medical and mental health staff at the County Jail.
There is no question that our jail needs additional resources to manage inmates’ mental health needs.
Our jail has custody of 600 people on any given day, and 40 percent (nearly 250 people) are medicated for mental illness. The county operates only one 16‐bed Psychiatric Health Facility, which is licensed to accept, treat and stabilize not just jail inmates, but also mentally ill individuals countywide who are a danger to themselves or others.
To address these issues, we have done the following:
- Recently hired Dr. Christy Mulkerin as the jail’s first chief medical officer, which will centralize oversight of inmate health care and provide one point of contact for all inmates’ medical and mental health care needs.
- Opened a new Crisis Stabilization Unit to reduce demand placed on the county’s 16‐ bed Psychiatric Health Facility by stabilizing community members suffering from mental health crisis.
- Initiated a process to evaluate the potential outsourcing of jail medical and mental health services in an effort to optimize inmate care.
What happened to Andrew is a symptom of a much larger problem. The number of inmates suffering from mental illness in our jail, as well as the severity of illness, has risen dramatically in recent years. This trend is not unique to our county. Statistics compiled by the Justice Center for the Council of State Governments make it clear that this is a nationwide crisis.
To address this issue at the local level, our county adopted the Stepping Up Initiative last October, with the three‐pronged goal of (1) reducing the number of people with mental illness from entering jail, (2) reducing the amount of time spent in jail, and (3) reducing the number who return to jail following release.
Our reform efforts will require a sustained commitment over the months and years to come. I’m confident our employees are more than up to this challenge. And our community deserves to know that we are getting things done. We will honor Andrew Holland by improving how we address the needs of those suffering from mental illness.
Wade Horton has been San Luis Obispo County’s chief administrative officer since November 2017.