GATESVILLE — While Coryell County winds its way through the state and federal application process to improve mental health services for indigent adults, the county attorney and jail administrator have warned the commissioners’ court that the need for care is urgent.

The county is working with the Central Counties MHMR on a four-year project that includes renovation of the old county hospital in Gatesville into a 16-bed, 24/7 mental health care center at an estimated cost of $30,000.

The project is being sought through a Section 1115 Medicaid waiver and would provide $1.50 of federal matching funds for every $1 from the county and other local sources, Coryell County Judge John Firth said.

The program targets persons experiencing mental health crises who commit minor crimes and end up in the county jail.

Firth said if the project clears state and federal approval, construction on the center could start this summer.

Jail Administrator Rita Thomas told the commissioners the beds are needed immediately.

“We need to get the extra beds,” Thomas said. “Will they be ready by summer? Our staff is not trained to handle mental health issues.”

Jail inmates in need of mental health treatment “deteriorate in jail,” she said. “They require counseling.”

She said at least three of the jail’s current 101 inmates need the type of care the center would provide.

“We are watching them deteriorate daily,” Thomas said. “If we put them in (the jail) population, they are abused by the other inmates. If we separate them, they can’t handle the isolation.”

County Attorney Brandon Belt also expressed the urgency of addressing the problem.

“We have got to do something,” Belt told the commissioners. “If something doesn’t change, we are going to get into a situation we cannot lawyer ourselves out of.”

The commissioners voted on Monday to approve a multi-year grant through the Texas Indigent Defense Commission to hire a mental health coordinator for the county’s pretrial services department.

The grant would also provide special training for attorneys assigned to work with defendants with mental health problems.

The Texas Indigent Defense Commission would pay 80 percent of the $128,000 grant, Firth said.

Firth said he and Central Counties MHMR officials will tour the site of the proposed center this week.

Contact Tim Orwig at

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