Mental health transportation service begins next week in SW Virginia

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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) The gray Dodge Durango that was sitting outside the Hotel Roanoke Wednesday afternoon represents a major change in the way Virginia transports people who are experiencing a mental health crisis.

WDBJ7 photo

Beginning next week in southwestern Virginia, the new vehicles will be used to transport adults under a temporary detention order from their evaluation site to inpatient psychiatric treatment.

The Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services awarded a $7 million two-year contract to G4S to provide the service. Wednesday, the department and its contractor brought one of the vehicles to a meeting of the Virginia Association of Community Services Boards.

Outside the vehicle there's no indication that the SUV is an alternative transportation vehicle, but open the door and you can see it's equipped for a safe and secure transport.

Passengers will not be handcuffed.

The drivers will be unarmed, and specially trained to interact with individuals in crisis. They will wear polo shirts and khakis.

"It's a soft look, a soft approach again," said G4S representative Chris Roberts, "to alleviate any stress that they may have as far as the whole process of point A to point B."

Gail Paysour is the Alternative Transportation Coordinator with the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.

"They will also be trained in first aid and de-escalation techniques so that they can hopefully help the individual remain calm, get them ready and engaged for treatment," Paysour told WDBJ7.

"Do you think that will make a big difference?" we asked. "That will make a huge difference," she replied.

The new alternative transportation service will also free up law enforcement officers who make most of the transports today.

The new SUVs will hit the road in the southwest region Monday, and reach other parts of the state over the next year.

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