Uvalde County Judge Bill Mitchell has authorized 67 mental health commitments so far this year. At a cost of $500 per mandatory detention hearing, the county has already accumulated a $33,500 bill – excluding cost for transportation, which falls on the Uvalde County Sheriff’s Office.
If any law enforcement officer working within Uvalde County encounters an individual they feel is in need of a mental health evaluation, that person is taken to Uvalde Memorial Hospital. There, a physician will screen the individual to determine if he or she needs assistance.
Likewise, individuals can check themselves into the hospital for evaluation, or another person can report an individual by way of a crisis hotline.
If the person’s behavior warrants immediate medical attention, an emergency medical detention certificate is generated and given to Uvalde County Judge Bill Mitchell for a signature.
“I am the one that authorizes emergency medical detentions. It isn’t just a matter of me signing that certificate; I need to evaluate,” Mitchell said, adding that he looks for individuals who are hallucinating or threatening violence against themselves or someone else.
“I have to be satisfied that that person needs assistance, because I am taking that person’s liberty away.”
Although Uvalde is in the Kerrville State Hospital area, Mitchell said if the hospital is full the local hospital has to look elsewhere including San Antonio, Bryan, Waco and McAllen to find an available bed.
Mitchell said the Uvalde County Sheriff’s Office is obligated to transport patients for emergency medical detentions, including patients brought to the local hospital by surrounding county agencies.
“Kinney County doesn’t have a hospital, so our neighboring counties bring patients to the local hospital and then it is the responsibility of our deputies to transport them to a state hospital,” Mitchell said. “And typically these things don’t happen between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. They can take place at 2 a.m.”
“There may be two to three deputies out and the sheriff has to pull one deputy off the street to transport a patient,” Mitchell said. “It is an obligation the sheriff has, but it does reduce the law enforcement presence in the county.”
Once at a state hospital, Mitchell said a detention hearing will take place within 24 hours. The hearing, which is held in the county where the patient is committed, typically costs $500.
“If the patient goes to Kerrville, Kerr County will perform the hearing and we will reimburse them,” Mitchell said. “We are also paying for gas and wear and tear of patrol vehicles.”
Although Mitchell said the county can bill the committed individual for court costs, collection is not ensured.
Residents seeking mental health assistance have a variety of local avenues of assistance.
Community Health Development Inc. has a behavioral health department, led by psychiatrist Margaret Conolly. Conolly can be reached at Our Health Nuestro de Salud, 830-278-7105.
The Crossroads Behavior Health, a Uvalde Memorial Hospital outreach program, can be reached at 830-278-6251.
The Uvalde County Mental Health Center, part of Hill County Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, can be reached at 830-278-2501.
Maricela Gonzales, a Uvalde psychologist who counsels children, can be reached at 830-591-1800.
South Texas Rural Health Services, which is located at 1815 Garner Field Road, also offers counseling for adults and children.