Berrien County Commissioners discuss Medication Assisted Treatment program

Published 12:00 pm Saturday, August 12, 2023

ST. JOSEPH — Berrien County Commissioners heard about work progressing on a number of fronts at their weekly meeting Thursday morning. Commissioners are expected to act on one of the items, a new drug treatment program for jail inmates, later this month.

County Commissioner Dave Vorrath reported that Berrien County Undersheriff Chuck Heit spoke about the Medication Assisted Treatment program with the board’s Administration Committee earlier Thursday. The proposal is expected to come before the full board for consideration in the next two weeks.

Heit is proposing to spend $180,000 from the county’s opioid settlement funds to pilot the project at the jail next year. The county is scheduled to get more than $4 million in total from settlements with drug companies and retail chains over the next 18 years.

Vorrath noted that the administration committee has recommended approval of the pilot program. The Medication Assisted Treatment program has been used in other parts of the state to help inmates with an opioid addiction recover while in jail.

Vorrath also reported that they heard from consultants about progress on the county’s juvenile center plans. Wightman and DLR representatives are doing preliminary design work on a possible new juvenile center as well as possible updates to the existing juvenile center in Berrien Township.

Vorrath said they preparing information on building a new center and renovating the existing facility in terms of costs and best use of resources. The two firms are also looking at work that needs to be done at the county jail.

County officials have been debating the future of the juvenile center for more than a year. The proposed new juvenile center site is on land the county owns off Napier Avenue in Benton Township and could also be home to a new county jail and juvenile court facilities at some point in the future.

The current juvenile center site is on Dean’s Hill Road in Berrien Township and is nearing the end of its useful life. Vorrath said that there is also discussion on the future of the adjacent former Berrien General Hospital which is now home to a substance abuse treatment program.

Commissioners also heard updates from County Administrator Brian Dissette on a couple of topics.

He said the county’s public safety committee is continuing to meet to discuss next year’s public safety millage renewal.  Voters defeated a proposed increase to that millage last year that would have paid for more deputies and new equipment. Dissette said the committee is looking at all the options available.

Dissette also reminded commissioners that the county will again have an active presence at next week’s Berrien County Youth Fair. The sheriff’s department and the health department both have a large presence at the fair every year and other agencies such as 9-1-1 and animal control are also there every year.

He noted that the county has used the fair to recruit new employees in recent years. Last year, the road department was able to hire five people from contacts made at the fair, he said.

In action Thursday, commissioners approved a contract with Tele-Rad, Inc. to perform VHF dismantling work at a cost of $30,375. The county is in the process of updating its emergency communication system to enhance public radio signal coverage.