BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The closure of the Earl K. Long Hospital had a ripple effect of changes throughout the Baton Rouge community. More than two years later, East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said the parish prison is still feeling the impact.
"Over the past couple of years since the state has shut down all the mental health facilities we've had an influx of mental health people coming to the prison," said Gautreaux.
The sheriff estimates that the number of mentally ill prisoners has doubled since Earl K. Long and other mental health facilities closed. He adds that the prison population is also more physically ill. The sheriff said the EBR prison system is not equipped to handle mounting medical problems.
"My concern is there's something that needs to be done out there. We're way behind the time to get it done," said Gautreaux.
Hearing that plea from the sheriff and others, the East Baton Rouge Metro Council agreed to spend $95,000 from the general fund to pay for study that will look at the prison's medical services and offer solutions.
The study could take up to a year to complete and will be conducted by Health Management Associates. Before it was approved, Council members C. Denise Marcelle and Chauna Banks-Daniel voiced objections.
"I'm not against a study, however we know some of these things that are already wrong and we need to fix those immediate needs before we spend 95 thousand dollars," said Marcelle.
Marcelle suggested giving raises to the staff who told the council several months ago that they were overworked with limited resources. She also suggested any money should be spent on needed equipment.
City Administrator William Daniel said improvements are being made where they can, but said the study is a crucial step in repairing the whole system. He also added that money from the general fund could not be used to give raises.
"We want someone objective look at that, to tell us what the current status is, how we can get to best practices," said Daniel. "We know what best practices are, but sometime there's a difference of opinion on how to get from A to B."
Once the study is complete, Daniel anticipates a committee will review the suggestions and make any needed changes.