POTTER COUNTY, TX (KFDA) - A new counseling program for Potter County inmates is saving taxpayers thousands.
The Potter County Sheriff's Office worked with Texas Panhandle Centers to bring TeleMed to the Potter County Detention Center.
Through this program, inmates with mental health issues can speak with counselors anywhere in the country via video chat.
Previously, the jail paid a part time psychiatrist $200 an hour to work with inmates who needed mental health treatment. When that psychiatrist left, Sheriff Brian Thomas turned to TeleMed as a cost efficient replacement.
TeleMed connects inmates to psychiatrists outside of Amarillo, and they meet weekly through video chat.
"The doctor has a background," said Lisa Dawson, Captain of the Potter County Detention Center. "They have an evaluation on them and whatever information about the inmate they can start with. And they're seeing the inmates. They're face to face, they're just not sitting across the desk from each other."
At least 60 of of jails current 477 inmates take medication for mental illnesses and will use this service.
The jail has only held three TeleMed sessions so far, but Dawson said it seems to be going well.
"A lot of times it takes several sessions before we actually see any results," said Dawson. "The doctors prescribe medication, then they evaluate that medication, and see the inmate the next week. It's just like it would be if you were going to your own personal physician."
She remarked the need for mental health counseling is greater now than ever before.
"There are a lot more mental health consumers that are incarcerated than what there had been in the years past for whatever reason," said Dawson. "But [a psychiatrist's] services are invaluable. Everybody needs a confidant and whenever they're going through an episode, they need someone to talk to."
TeleMed doctors reserve two hours a week for the inmates, but if needed that time can increase for future cases.