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Palm Coast Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011 8 years ago

Mentally ill offenses drop

by: Brian McMillan Executive Editor

A three-year grant for $455,295 will help fund crisis intervention and jail diversion for the mentally ill.

Sonny Donaldson has one of those jobs that never surfaces in career fairs. He’s a mental health jail diversion specialist for the Stewart-Marchman-Act Behavioral Healthcare.

His job, plus a nurse and screeners on-site to assist the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office in times of crisis for mental health cases, will be paid for in part by a three-year $455,295 grant from the Department of Children and Families.

It’s part of strategic plan, set forth two years ago by the Flagler County Board of County Commissioners, to address the mental illness problem in the county.

Donaldson helps 14 mentally ill patients who are recently released from jail. He meets with them and their families and helps them to regain the medical benefits they may have lost while in jail.

Then, he encourages them to take their psychotropic medication, which will hopefully help keep them from doing anything that might land them back in jail.

Donaldson’s work has contributed to a steep reduction in the number of arrests and nights spent in jail by the mentally ill (see box).

“I get a lot of thank-you notes,” Donaldson said. “One mom wrote and said, ‘Without you, my son would be in and out of jail.’”

“ … I’ve seen a couple of instances where I’ve saved lives,” he said. “I’ve gone into garages with nooses hanging down.”

Resource Coordinator Mary Flynn Boener said that without someone like Donaldson helping them along, “Some families give up.”

Among the organizations matching funds for the grant are the county, the Sheriff’s Offce, the Flagler County Public Safety Coordinating Council, Haven Recovery Center, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Stewart-Marchman-Act Behavioral Healthcare.

“That’s us working together with other groups and other officers to make it happen,” Boener said.

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