SALT LAKE COUNTY — The Salt Lake County Council voted Tuesday to increase the pay for nurses, mental health professionals and other medical staff at the Salt Lake County Jail.
The council also agreed to add on a $5,000 hiring bonus for medical employees who stay with the jail for two years.
The jail’s medical staff vacancy rate is at 19% with a 42% annual turnover rate. Compensation is the top reason for leaving.
“Just this week alone, we lost someone who had been working for 23 years as a nurse in the jail to go to another facility that pays a lot more money,” said Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera.
Nurses at the jail have had to respond to mental health calls during graveyard shifts because there aren’t enough mental health experts available.
“Since the pandemic, more people need mental health,” said Rivera.
Rivera said the jail hasn’t been able to hire a psychiatrist for two years.
On Tuesday, the county council also approved a $325,000 salary for a new psychiatrist about to join the jail’s medical team.
“It’s tough for us because we’re dealing with a different environment, and people look at that. You know, ‘Do I want to go work in a jail?’” said Rivera.
Rivera hopes new hiring rates can help compete with nearby medical centers and hospitals. The jail is in need of medical help in all areas — nurses, therapists, EMTs, etc. If anyone is interested in applying, they can visit the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office website.
The jail isn't the only place struggling to fill these much-needed positions.
“We have more open positions than I think we have people to fill them,” said Dr. Travis Mickelson, the medical director for mental health integration at Intermountain Healthcare.
Although it’s a shortage all states are facing, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration, Utah is ranked high nationwide for proper staffing of mental health professionals.
“It’s extremely important that our community has good access to crisis services,” Mickelson said.
Mickelson said Utah is in a better state right now than where it was pre-pandemic when it comes to the discussion of mental health and seeking out care.
He wants to remind Utahns of the resources and hotlines available, like Intermountain’s free Behavioral Health Navigation Hotline. It’s available seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Care navigators can help you figure out your next steps to make sure you get the care you need. The number for that is 833-442-2211.