EASTPOINT, Fla. (WMBB) — The Northwest Florida Health Network recognized Franklin County Sheriff A.J. Smith for helping to decrease the number of people committed to mental facilities under the Baker Act.

The number of admissions is down 15%. 

“Baker acts are simply involuntary placements in psychiatric wards, so that’s obviously a very extreme measure,” said Northwest Florida Health Network CEO Mike Watkins. “To be able to reduce that by 15% across the region has been a really big improvement.”

Sheriff’s deputies are often the first contact for people having mental health emergencies.

“Before we would just put them in the car and take them to Tallahassee,” said Franklin County Sheriff A.J. Smith. “That’s just the way it was because we didn’t have this capability.”

But that’s changed. Deputies can now contact a mental health professional to determine the extent of the crisis. 

“We use telehealth to reach out to a doctor in Tallahassee and evaluate the person to see if they need to be taken to Tallahassee or if they’re okay in the environment that they’re in.”

While Baker Acting someone might preserve their life, it does not solve their mental health problem.

“We’re in the business of not just moving the problem around. We’re trying to get to the treatment so that that doesn’t happen again,” said Watkins. “Sheriff Smith has done a wonderful job in getting his entire team tuned in to what the real needs of these people are.” 

If you’re a resident in Franklin County experiencing a mental health emergency, call 1-800-342-0774 for professional help.