The Telecourt system - shown above during a training session at Cox North.
Handcuffs and police escorts have been a longtime standard part of transporting psychiatric patients to hearings at the Greene County Courthouse. But at CoxHealth, they aren’t any more: Patients needing long-term involuntary holds for psychiatric care or requiring guardianship hearings can now have their court appearances right at CoxHealth via Telecourt. The new system allows patients to converse with Carol Aiken, Greene County Probate Commissioner, via a large monitor and microphone in a psych-safe room in CoxHealth’s inpatient psychiatric facility.
“Our staff, physicians and the court system believe that this is a much safer process,” says Dayna Harbin, CoxHealth’s administrative director of Psychiatric Services. “If someone has a mental illness to the point that they need a long-term hold or guardianship, putting them in the care of a police escort out in the community is not ideal, and can be very traumatic for the patient.”
Through Telecourt, individuals needing to meet with Aiken simply go to the room and converse via a microphone and camera. The video/audio system uses a secured site, and individuals are able to see the entire courtroom on the monitor, just as if they were there in person.
“Our hearings by video have been going very well,” says Aiken, who was instrumental in helping this project become a reality. “I think that conducting the hearings by video is much less stressful for the patients since they no longer have to be transported to the courthouse, which can be a very intimidating environment.”
“The judge can also see the entire room where the patient is, and can speak directly to the person,” says Harbin, who also notes that patients’ lawyers would be present at the hospital with them just as if the person was physically in a courtroom.
Besides being better for patients, this new system benefits other people as well. Previously, a physician accompanied some patients to court hearings – but now, physicians can stay with them on site, eliminating that lost treatment time with other patients. And it also removes the need to take a Greene County deputy off the streets to transport patients to and from the courthouse.
CoxHealth’s Telecourt program was funded in part by a grant from a Rural Access to Specialties in the ER (RASE) grant from Missouri Foundation for Health.