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Posted on: January 7, 2022

2021 Annual Report: Sarpy, UNMC partner on forensic psychiatry fellowship

Entrance to Sarpy County Courthouse's Administration Wing

With construction of the new Sarpy County Correctional Center underway, so are plans for programming inside the new facility. 

Sarpy County has partnered with the University of Nebraska Medical Center to create the state’s first forensic psychiatry fellowship to assess and treat inmates dealing with mental illness. The fellowship will support the correctional center’s dedicated behavioral health care unit. 

The Sarpy County Board of Commissioners in March unanimously approved a multi-year agreement with UNMC to establish the fellowship program. 

“This is a game changer for mental health treatment in Sarpy County,” said Sarpy County Commissioner Angi Burmeister. “This fellowship will assist inmates who are experiencing mental health crisis and those with serious mental illnesses, and hopefully get them on a path that doesn’t lead back to jail.” 

The fellowship will have benefits for UNMC, too. Participating fellows will get experience working in a correctional center setting, providing psychiatric treatment, prescribing medication, helping with medication management, offering court testimony and potentially completing competency evaluations 

Psychiatrists taking part in the program who complete the fellowship will then be eligible to become board certified in forensic psychiatry.

UNMC plans to submit the fellowship program for national accreditation through the Accreditation Council on Graduate Medical Education. 

“This has been a really deliberate process that we’ve engaged in with Sarpy County, and we’re absolutely thrilled,” said Dr. Howard Liu, Chair of the UNMC College of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry. “It’s innovative not only with the fellowship, but in the process, we’re creating and supporting a workforce. This is creating a new pipeline of experts, working right here in our community. This is a tremendous need and will help the quality of care and improve the system.” 

Under the agreement, Sarpy County will pay UNMC $1.2 million over the life of the 5.25-year agreement. County funding will help develop a training site in the new Sarpy County Correctional Center and share the cost of faculty and a program director. 

The program is in the planning phase and is slated to begin seeing patients in 2023 after the new Sarpy County Correctional Center opens. 

“The psychiatric fellowship program with UNMC is one of the many exciting programs we’re working on,” said Sarpy County Corrections Director Ryan Mahr. “We’re proud that we’ll be able offer our inmates access to much-needed mental health care, and that Sarpy County will play a role in training our future mental healthcare professionals.”

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