BERRYVILLE — Clarke County law enforcement agencies have taken only four people needing emergency mental health evaluations to the new Crisis Intervention Team Assessment Center (CITAC) at Winchester Medical Center.

However, the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office and Berryville Police Department believe the center is proving to be a valuable asset, as does the Northwestern Community Services Board, which established it during the summer.

Staffed by police officers and sheriff’s deputies from roughly 20 participating localities, CITAC accepts people under emergency custody orders who are taken there by police. It then uses the hospital’s services to evaluate the people in custody to see if they need involuntary commitments for mental health treatments because they pose a danger to themselves or others.

So far, the sheriff’s office has transported three people to CITAC, said Chief Deputy Travis Sumption.

The Berryville Police Department has transported one, said Police Chief Neal White. That is about what he anticipated by now, he added.

“It’s worked out very well” for the sheriff’s office, Sumption said, because it has freed deputies to come back to the county sooner to resume patrols and respond to 911 calls, he said.

White agreed.

Michael Elwell, Northwestern’s chief executive officer, estimated that since July, CITAC has saved police and sheriff’s deputies in Clarke about 20 hours of time — hours that they otherwise would have had to spend at the hospital attending to people they brought.

“It doesn’t seem like a lot, but anything helps,” Elwell recently told the Clarke County Board of Supervisors, referring to the hours saved.

Mental health evaluations can take up to eight hours, officials have said.

Not only does CITAC benefit law enforcement agencies, but also the hospital and people taken to the center, according to White.

The hospital benefits because emergency department beds can be kept available for patients with illnesses, White said. And, those in custody can receive services in “a more therapeutic environment” than the emergency department, he said.

Roughly 50% of emergency custody orders evolve into temporary custody orders, which result in people being taken to psychiatric hospitals elsewhere for inpatient care, Elwell said.

Clarke County Sheriff Tony Roper has estimated that about half of all 911 calls to the sheriff’s office involve people in some type of mental distress. They include those addicted to drugs and alcohol.

Between 15% and 25% of calls answered by the police department involve mental health issues, White has said.

Yet not all of those incidents require emergency custody orders to be obtained. On average, the sheriff’s office obtains such orders in fewer than 50 incidents annually, Roper has said. The police department obtained 11 orders last year, White has said.

That is one reason why not all patients under emergency custody orders are taken to CITAC. Among other reasons: The center is not set up to handle juveniles, and it is open only from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.

Plans are for CITAC to eventually operate around the clock, but a funding source first must be obtained, Elwell said. When it is not open, people must still be taken to the emergency department.

“It’s going to be constantly evaluated” to see if changes are needed, White said of CITAC. But more data needs to be obtained before any changes are considered, he said.

“It’s still new, it’s still in the process of working out its kinks,” he continued.

Law enforcement officers volunteer to work at CITAC outside their regular work shifts and are paid. The community service board reimburses law enforcement agencies at a rate of $37 per hour.

White said all nine of the Berryville Police Department’s officers — including himself — have undergone training to work at CITAC. He said two so far have worked there “from time to time.”

The sheriff’s office has five deputies trained to work at the center but only one actually has worked there, Sumption said.

— Contact Mickey Powell at mpowell@winchesterstar.com

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